Asthma, eczema and hay fever may be linked to fast food
January 14th, 2013
04:26 PM ET

Asthma, eczema and hay fever may be linked to fast food

Teenagers and young children who eat fast food could be increasing their risk of developing asthma, eczema and hay fever, according to a study published Monday in the British Medical Journal's respiratory journal Thorax.

The International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC) study used written questionnaires completed by 319,196 13-  and 14-year-olds from 51 countries and by the parents of 181,631 6- and 7-year-olds in 31 countries.  They were asked if they had symptoms of the three conditions and about their weekly diet - including the types of foods they ate over the last year, and how often.

"We found clear associations between certain foods and severe asthma, hay fever (or allergic rhinoconjunctivitis) and eczema in the largest study of allergies in children (aged 6-7 years) and adolescents (13-14 years) to date," said study author Hywel Williams of the Centre for Evidence Based Dermatology, Queen's Medical Centre, University Hospital, Nottingham, UK.  According to Williams, the associations between allergic diseases and fast food were "only really convincing for severe disease."

Researchers saw a protective effect against severe asthma for those who ate fruit at least three times a week.  Those consuming fast food three or more times a week had about a 30% increased risk of severe asthma, hay fever and eczema, a chronic skin condition that causes scaly, itchy rashes.  The results were consistent in both age groups.  Affluence and gender did not change or affect the outcome.

"The cautionary notes are that this study showed an association, which does not always mean that the link between food and allergies is causal," Williams said. "It could be due to other factors linked to behavior that we have not measured, or it could be due to biases that occur in studies that measure disease and ask about previous food intake."

Study authors say if further research shows that consuming a lot of fast food actually does cause these types of allergies, it could have major public health implications because of the rise in fast food consumption globally.

"It's not at all surprising to me that a disease as complex as asthma would be directly affected by diet.  We've known for a while that diet can affect immune system function with certain foods being pro or anti-inflammatory," says Dr. Stephen Teach, who is the chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Children's National Medical Center in Washington and was not involved in the research.

"Given that asthma's inherently an inflammatory disease, with swelling and inflammation of the small to medium-size airways of the lung, it is not at all surprising that diet should affect those processes in some way."

Teach said it's important to note that these are associations only. "In other words, it would be wrong to assume from the results of this study that fast foods directly cause allergic disease.  It is possible that some unmeasured effect of socioeconomic status or environment which correlates with fast foods may in fact be responsible."

Either way, Williams said, there is a take-home message for parents.  He says you don't have to stop eating fast food entires, " but to eat a balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and maybe less fast food - one or two times per week rather than three or more - if your child has allergies."

soundoff (129 Responses)
  1. jpi108

    A major culprit in the epidemic of allergies and inflammation is GMO foods. This video will convince you.

    January 14, 2013 at 17:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • mpouxesas

      The average american, aside the fact that he/she is just that....average, is totally unaware, oblivious to the surrounding world, sitting and comfortably lying numb on the couch watching dancing with the stars and other life altering shows....

      January 15, 2013 at 06:47 | Report abuse |
    • Vincent A. Demonbreun

      Toxins in food, chemicals that are put together to seem like food, dehydration, and chemicals in the water. They all acculimate in the body and slowly kills us.

      January 21, 2013 at 11:46 | Report abuse |
  2. Ron Bockman

    you're sure it's not second hand smoke? Such BS.

    January 14, 2013 at 18:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bon Rockman

      So you don't believe that there's a link between diet and health? And that inhaling cigarette smoke is bad for you wherever it comes from?
      Why don't you just put your head back in the sand, troll? Most of these readers are here to learn, not just to observe what others have learned, disregard it, and profess their own ignorance.

      January 15, 2013 at 07:26 | Report abuse |
  3. Blade1975


    I bet all those kids had MILK.

    Oh wait, it's better to make fast food look bad and go after them...

    But fine to pump yourself full of cows milk

    January 14, 2013 at 22:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • neal kelley

      people have been drinking cow milk since i can remember... I guess we all have asthma, hay fever and eczema. Something else is going on other then cows milk.. Would not be surprised that fast food is partly to blame... when i was growing up people used to eat mostly home cook food at home.. together as a family.. and fast food was simply a treat.. now it has become part of some people's daily diet.

      January 15, 2013 at 02:29 | Report abuse |
    • Aware2013

      So you think fast food is good and milk is bad. Is 1975 the year you stopped paying attention and learning anything new? Or maybe it's your target weight?

      January 15, 2013 at 07:30 | Report abuse |
  4. justagirl

    What kind of fast food? and what particular ingredient?

    January 14, 2013 at 22:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • DR

      For me, it was the stereotypical FF like BK, McD's, Arby's, Pizza Hut, etc. I would eat burgers, fish sandwiches, fried chicken sandwiches, fries, and the soft drink. Not all in one sitting of course. 🙂 I still eat the "fresher" fast food of sub shops, the occasional sit-down fast food, and the local take-out place. I don't get break-outs of seborrhea or gout since I stopped frequenting the fried/grilled fast-food places.

      January 14, 2013 at 23:02 | Report abuse |
    • drk

      Great question! We eat at fast food places sometimes, but I try to order the healthier options. Are the soft tacos (chicken, tortilla, lettuce, salsa) we are having for dinner tonight really any worse than a home cooked meal of roast chicken, rolls, and salad?

      January 22, 2013 at 11:51 | Report abuse |
  5. MLFuller

    The link between fast food and asthma may very well be due to the harsh cleaners needed for sanitation. Most asthmatics find off-gassing from bleach, ammonia, and other common cleaning agents to worsen their asthma. It may have a direct effect on the food processed in such locations. It could be as simple as sitting at a table in the fast food restaurant that was just wiped down with an airway irritant. As with all studies, more studies need to be done to find the links, and we may find that it isn't the type of food but the place it was prepared. I find the link with fruit amusing since I have a son with fruit allergies that trigger hives and eczema. 😉

    January 14, 2013 at 22:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. DR

    I consider myself an example of "fast food" and "junk food" causing skin and other issues. When I cut out fast food my seborrhea went away – no joke. I stopped having to buy prescribed topical solutions that I was using for 12 years. That was 10 years ago and the only times I've had relapses of seborrhea has been when I've eaten more junk/fast food than 2-3x's per week. I would also get gout – in my 20's! I truly believe there is something in that food, whether a combination of stuff or just an allergy I have, that made me susceptible. Every body is different – some can smoke for 70 years and be healthy – but, there are some things that have pretty strong connections that cannot be ignored.

    January 14, 2013 at 22:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. BigJohn4USA

    Geez I suffered terribley for asthma and exema as a young child in the late 50s/early 60's. I didn't even eat a fast food burger till I was 12 or so. LOL

    January 14, 2013 at 23:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • DtR

      I laugh with you since it was the 70s when our foodstuffs really started to change. You're right, that we probably wouldn't see a lot of the issues today at the same rates in the 60s and 70s when the effects of the food you ate in the 50s and 60s would yield data. But, we also had increasing heart disease in the 80s and 90s when the 70s and 80s was all about margarine.

      January 14, 2013 at 23:54 | Report abuse |
    • geezergramp

      I was born in 1945, "hooting like an owl", as the doctor related to my mother. I spent most of my first 12 years suffering from asthma and exzema.

      January 15, 2013 at 03:10 | Report abuse |
    • NotSoBig

      Not to burst your bubble, Big John, but eating fast food is not the only way to have a crappy diet. Maybe there's a reason you're called "Big John". I wouldn't L so L.

      January 15, 2013 at 07:34 | Report abuse |
  8. S. A. O'C

    It's the potatoes. When I cut them out my rheumatoid arthritis stopped. RA is an immune disorder related to excema.

    January 14, 2013 at 23:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. liggyslair

    I'm voting for MSG as the culprit. It's the most insidious, unhealthy chemical concoction in our daily lives outside of plastic. MSG has been known to cause an array of skin, lung, nerve, and red blood cell reactions in laboratory mice and rats. One of its nastiest tricks is convincing the brain that the food you're ingesting not only tastes wonderful, but that you need to consume more of it NOW. It creates an eating compulsion/addiction, and its effects linger in the various organs of the body for days and weeks after ingestion. And it's in everything – boxed foods, processed meats, fast foods of every degree, and is even in the chemical spray waxes they use on your fruit and vegetables. Read more here: http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/food-nutrition/facts/the-dangers-of-monosodium-glutamate.htm

    January 15, 2013 at 00:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. sarah

    i don't eat fast food and never ate it as a child or teenager. i only eat organic food and make sure i have green/blue-green algae, etc. i am a vegetarian as well. ...and i have asthma. i believe it's regional. i live in pittsburgh. when i moved from pgh to seal beach in california i was asymptomatic. within a month of moving back to pittsburgh i experienced the usual asthma symptoms.

    January 15, 2013 at 00:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Bellanca

    I had asthma and moderate seasonal allergies, but since going on a mostly plant-based whole foods diet, my symptoms have subsided significantly. I have no sings of asthma, and haven't used my inhaler in over a year. And as far as allergies go, I used to be miserable for weeks in the spring and summer, but last summer I had maybe a couple weeks where I took a Clariten or benedryl here and there, vs months of taking clariten and benedryl religiously.

    I feel so much better, not just allergies and asthma-wise, but I have more energy and get sick less. Also, comparing pictures of me from me pre-diet a year and a half ago to now, you would think the now pictures were taken 5 years before the after pictures. My skin looks so much better, and lines and wrinkles that were starting to form have actually disappeared.

    I would recommend a plant-based whole foods diet to anyone. Watch Forks Over Knives. I do cheat once and a while, meat and dairy once or twice a week, but no fast food at all, and no processed food (even processed Vegan food is bad...).

    I feel amazing

    January 15, 2013 at 00:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • sarah

      i posted immediately before you. i eat as you do and still have asthma.

      January 15, 2013 at 03:36 | Report abuse |
  12. NanookoftheNorth

    Re the picture: Apparently fast food is also bad for one's nails 😉

    January 15, 2013 at 00:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Owen

    Perhaps it's not necessarily a direct cause of eating fast food? Households that consume those types of meals a majority of the time are typically in the lower income class. Maybe those symptoms are a result of personal hygiene, living conditions, or even their overall environment. Maybe I read too many Malcolm Gladwell books? lol

    January 15, 2013 at 01:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. musings

    This is just one more way to bash parents for much more complex problems. Who would ever feed a child solely on "fast food"? Yes, there's a lot of garbage out there, but most parents would offer their children fresh fruits, etc. and undoubtedly do. My children were not on fast food all the time, but their father also had eczema outbreaks. I believe it is partly genetic. His went back to his childhood in another country with almost nothing in common with today's modern environment. And then lo and behold his daughter develops the rashes, the eczema and the asthma too. It wasn't the McNuggets.

    January 15, 2013 at 01:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. nowhere

    I know that cannot be true because I have asthma and I am vegan! I don't eat ANY of that crap. I also don't smoke or drink.

    January 15, 2013 at 02:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. sethchalnick

    Gluten and dairy are huge contributors to allergy induced asthma. Fast food contains both. Western medicine should at least introduce diet into their lexicon rather than rely solely on pushing steroids.

    January 15, 2013 at 03:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. crabman

    have had asthma from child hood i am 55 this so B S it's funny

    January 15, 2013 at 08:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Portland tony

    Pre and post WWII babes were exposed to a lot of chemicals and antigens that are considered dangerous today. More dust, blowing weeds, raw internal combustion exhaust, cigarette smoke, and since most homes were coal heated, lots of coal dust and byproducts. No antibacterial sprays or cleaners etc....So today's kids and their immune systems haven't built up a resistance against every day "dirt" and are more than likely to have allergic responses to "stuff" just blowin in the wind...

    January 15, 2013 at 15:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. qrty1980

    Interesting that fruit vs fast food showed protective vs harmful effect. It would be interesting to see if there were also environmental factors associated with this... for instance mapping the location or availability of fast food with urban areas vs more rural areas for access to fresh produce – air pollution could be a culprit in both asthma and eczema and diet really nothing....

    January 15, 2013 at 16:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Nobody

    Funny how nobody's mentioned antibiotics water or preservatives. Antibiotics in meat? Cows and chickens poop. Goes in water. But so does OUR poop.

    Sarah, Pittsburgh has 3 rivers. Thats a lot of poop runoff. I live south of you, off the Ohio River, and never had an athsma attack til I lived here-and drank the river water.

    I only mention preservatives bc my throat closed up once following an angel food cake loaded with the stuff. But I still say human excrement is loaded with...the stuff of legend. Meds etc And is why we're so sick.

    January 19, 2013 at 07:22 | Report abuse | Reply
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    this may also helpful

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  23. Janet L.

    My asthma started as a young adult. I always had extreme eczema and still have year round hayfever. It runs in my family and my father passed from asthma at 37 (1968). I can well believe that environmental and dietary choices trigger allergic responses. I try to be in control of my eating and environment. At home I don't eat out often and fix meals with a minimum of cans and prepackaged items. I very rarely eat McD or other fast food. But I often travel on business and at times for pleasure. Hotels are better than they used to be but I often react to the chemicals in bedding and towels. After a week, my face can be a mess, especially with cheaper chains. Eating out is always a problem – what did they use in that dressing? Did they prepare my chicken in the same oil as the fish? Is that BBQ safe from peanut oil? No matter how you quiz the waitstaff, they simply will not know the answers. So we do a lot of home cooking!

    January 23, 2013 at 20:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Nobody

    I used to work at a factory that processed vegetables for one of the big name fast food conglomerate. It was filthy. Our toilets overflowed constantly, and workers boots tracked fecal matter into the rooms where vegetables were processed for delivery. Most days, cleanup was pressurized water. Rooms slated for acid cleaning every day got it every 30 days. To try and make
    up for that, supervisors overdid the chlorine rinses. But the water we used was city water, river water that was always in the paper for failing state tests and that was later found to be loaded with trace antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals. And this was in the US.

    The plant was cited as a source in a food poisoning outbreak. The owner declared bankruptcy and closed shop, but then opened another one in China. When I found that out, all I could think was, I hope to God Micky D's didn't tag along for a second ride...

    January 27, 2013 at 10:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. larry5

    This is our government at work. They could not run a lemon-aid stand. Why would they care about what happens to you. They've got more important things to do. And you're still buying this stuff. You hold the cards. Stop eating at fast food places and stop buying anything that's been processed in any way. Get to know your local farmer's market. Exercise some common sense. Your dollars will turn things around. Underneath it all you know better.

    January 28, 2013 at 00:27 | Report abuse | Reply
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    January 29, 2013 at 01:08 | Report abuse | Reply
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  30. Mike @ enferemedadesdelapiel.info

    I firmly believe that, in time, fast food will be regarded similarly to smoking in terms of the health risks. One of the best ways to control and cure asthma, eczema and hay fever is to take up juicing, or at the very lease, replacing fast food with non-processed foods and lots of fruit and veg.

    March 10, 2013 at 15:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Mike @ www.enfermedadesdelapiel.info

    To add to my previous comments, from an ecological standpoint, the only way the human race will be able to sustain itself in a growing population will be to eschew meat and take up a more vegetarian diet. Do this, and the planet will be better able to sustain itself, the obesity epidemic will be solved and health issues such as skin diseases, asthma and hay fever will be reduced. But of course, it won't make rich fast food companies or drug companies richer so probably won't happen until it's too late.

    March 10, 2013 at 15:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Mike

    I find it quite extraordinary that we've been so slow to make the link between poor diet and the health of our skin. Surely it stands to reason that a diet high in salt, sugar and processed meats will be more detrimental to the skin than one high in fruit and veg?

    March 20, 2013 at 10:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. John

    The messeage is clear – to rid yourself of eczema and other related problems, change your diet radically.

    March 20, 2013 at 10:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Skin Disease help

    For all the drugs andcosmetics out there to aid clearer, eczema-fre skin, it'sremarkable that it's ofte overlooked that what we put into our bodies as fuel often messes with what happens to its exterior,

    March 20, 2013 at 10:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. WAKEUP48

    Obama keeps up with his Nazi style by signing HR 933. While his family eats Organic foods, Its OBVIOUS that he just does not care about the health of US.. PURE EVIL

    March 28, 2013 at 12:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Jennie

    Might want to fix the typo in the last paragraph: "...fast food entires...". Entrees? Entirely?

    April 19, 2013 at 23:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Eric

    Great article. I just quit all processed food about 4 months ago and i have had asthma and eczema since i was a baby. The eczema is completely gone and my doctor said my lungs never sounded better. oh and i smoked for 20 years, quit that too. My daughter has eczema since she was a baby and i am getting her on the same eating habits as well. It
    really works people.

    April 19, 2013 at 23:32 | Report abuse | Reply
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