Friday Food for Thought: Sounding The Alarm On Children and Food Allergies

We like to keep informed on all the latest health and fitness updates, and that includes not just the “hard news” out there – research studies, government policy reports, industry (i.e. Big Pharma, Big Agra, etc.) “developments.” It also means following (and often reveling in) other contrary voices out there who are doing the good work of spreading sensical health consciousness and exposing disturbing health trends and conflicts of interest that should give us all pause. Whether we find ourselves cheering them on, formulating our rebuttals, or scratching our heads in bewilderment, we always relish some good food for thought. We thought you would too.

This week an article from the New York Times caught our eye. It’s about a mother, Robyn O’Brien, and her quest to draw attention to the alarming increase of food allergies in children. Though the general medical community and allergy organizations are keeping their distance, Ms. O’Brien is receiving increasing media attention in connection with her new book, Healthy Child, Healthy World.

An unlikely activist, O’Brien had grown up part of the Texas country club establishment. Much changed, however, the day one of her four children suffered a serious allergic reaction to a simple scrambled egg dinner.

Following that startling twist of fate, she’s positioned herself as a one-woman watchdog, meticulously tracing and taking on the connections and conflicts of interest she unearths among the food industry, government and the medical community:

Her theory – that the food supply is being manipulated with additives, genetic modification, hormones and herbicides, causing increases in allergies, autism and other disorders in children – is not supported by leading researchers or the largest allergy advocacy groups. That only feeds Ms. O’Brien’s conviction that the influence of what she sees as the profit-hungry food industry runs deep. In just a few dizzying steps, she can take you from a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese to Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds to Donald H. Rumsfeld, who once ran the company that created the sweetener aspartame. … She chides top allergy doctors who are connected to Monsanto, the producer of herbicides and genetically modified seeds. She asserts that the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, the nation’s leading food allergy advocacy group, is tainted by the money it receives from food manufacturers and peanut growers.

Depending on your perspective, it’s enough to make your head spin, your heart sink or your dander seriously rise. As you know, we’ve had our own beefs with Big Agra in the past, and we get especially riled up when it comes to the well-being of the small fries. We’ve been critics of what the FDA and industry groups celebrate as progress in agriculture and food science. In short, we read this piece and find ourselves intrigued. Ms. O’Brien’s advice to families will sound familiar to MDA readers:

Ms. O’Brien encourages people to do what she did: throw out as much nonorganic processed food as you can afford to. Avoid anything genetically modified, artificially created or raised with hormones. Don’t eat food with ingredients you can’t pronounce. Once she cleaned out her cupboards, she said, her four children started behaving better. Their health problems, which her doctor attributed to allergies to milk and other foods, cleared up.

via New York Times

So, now we turn it over to you. We appreciate the perspectives and stories you share that shed light on and give a real life picture to MDA topics. What’s your reaction to this Friday Food for Thought?

Dan4th Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Allergic? Pour it On

Dr. Briffa: Food Sensitivity and Children

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13 thoughts on “Friday Food for Thought: Sounding The Alarm On Children and Food Allergies”

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  1. We got some sparkling toothpaste from the grandparents and after my daughter brushed her teeth, she had one of the worst tantrum’s I’d seen. She’s 6 so I figured we were well past that. The next night and the next night it was the same. On that 3rd day, I had read an article about food coloring making children hyperactive and so I threw out the toothpaste. The next night was normal. Now, that may not have been it. A child can come into contact with many things in a day…still, I got rid of that toothpaste and things were instantly better.

  2. This is not news to me – I grew up in a home where we ate nothing processed. Period. My brother, it was discovered, had allergies to all food dyes and additives. Nowadays, he would have been labeled ‘ADHD’ – but when my mother removed all processed food, his behavior improved 100%. Most doctors thought she was nuts, as did most mothers. This was back in the 70s, the era of fast food and Tang. We were freaks.

    I now have 3 kids of my own, one of which also has allergies and sensitivities to certain foods and additives. The bottom line is: none of this crap is good for kids. Dyes, preservatives, nitrates (found in most lunchmeats), and my absolute nemesis: corn syrup! Everytime I read another article about how MAYBE these things are bad for our kids and MAYBE there’s a connection with autism and ADD/ADHD, I can’t help but snort and say ‘well DUH!’
    It has always seemed so basic to me, but then I grew up in a home where we had bread made from scratch and all our ‘treats’ were homemade with no crap.

    Feed your kids as pure as possible. You are setting the stage for habits they will follow the rest of their lives.

  3. Toxins are everywhere from foods to carpet cleaners to scented candles. Eventually our health has to be an equation of toxin out greater than toxin in. Our whole environment (not just what we are eating and drinking) has a full impact on our health, what we breathe in and also absorb through our skin.

    On that thought, MSN has an interesting article on that new car smell….

  4. I grew up eating all the crap food. It was cheap and we were poor. Nothing is wrong with my sister, my parents or myself. I think all of this is a lot of hooey! I am 26 years old and still eat mac and cheese, peanut butter and corn syrup. I am a normal weight and healthy. I think it is paranoid thinking and people wanting to blame something other themselves for their problems.

  5. I have quite a few food allergies. Most undiscovered till adulthood (for the most part, they aren’t dangerous, just make me feel like total crap), but I did have some as a kid.

    I would not be surprised if food additives had something to do with the rise of food allergies, but I guess I’m not banking on it. I don’t eat processed food in the first place, and neither will my future children, to the degree I can control it. So I hope it will be a non-issue in the first place.

    The thing about food allergies that really struck me was when I read a La Leche League article about food allergies. It stated that humans used to have about 200 different foods in their diet and now the average American eats about 20 different foods. Our dependence on allergenic foods (such as wheat, corn, soy, dairy, eggs) could be sensitizing us to those things. However, I have no doubt that this problem could have many contributing factors.

  6. Allison- obesity is not the issue here. We are talking about the rise in childhood allergies, as well as the marked increase in autism, ADD, and ADHD. Autism cases alone have increased tenfold over the last 20 years. There is obviously something wrong with our environment to be creating these problems.

    I will challange you on your ‘I’m healthy’ statement – being skinny and being healthy are two separate entities. High fructose corn syrup is not good for anyone, neither are the additives, preservatives and artificial dyes and flavors that go into most processed foods. I challange you to do some serious research on this subject. The state of our food chain is something we should ALL be concerned about.

  7. I can hardly believe what happened, I recently was so frustrated with carpet cleaners because I had been ripped off so many times over the years. But recently I learnt of the carpet cleaning consumer guide at and the fast information on that website truly made all the difference. I finally hired someone trustworthy. They were a bit more expensive up-front compared to many others BUT they didn’t charge me any extra like all the others I previously hired. Thank you to the carpet cleaning consumer guide.

  8. I was diagnosed with a life threatening nut allergy at 2 years old after a couple of severe reactions. I was the first case my doctor, town and parents ever heard of. This was back in the 80s before the boom of allergies that we see now. My allergist has always believed that there is a direct correlation between when they started genetically modifying peanuts in the late 1970s/early 80s and the sudden increase in peanut allergies in children that followed.

    As a result of this, my mother decided to stay home and made everything from scratch. We had very few preservatives and processed food until I was in my teens and more things become “nut free”…and that is when I started getting sick all the time. I firmly believe that there is a link between preservatives/processed foods and children’s health

    1. Peanuts werent genetically modified in 1970-80s- the chemicals used to grow them and the residues left on the peanuts probably increased though. I’d be interested in knowing whether peanut allergies are an issue in african countries where peanuts are homegrown as part of the diet or whether this is more of an issue for industrialised peanuts and consumers.

  9. Interesting topic.
    Here in Queensland Australia, a school (bowing to the pressure of mothers) provided only good FRESH NON PACKAGED FOODS and allowed no drinks other than water. Cakes, biscuits, white bread etc. were not allowed.
    This was a school where the detention rooms were crowded with misbehaving children, who seemed to be totally out of control by the afternoon (just after lunch??) The ones remaining in classrooms were inattentive and disruptive.
    Within two weeks of the tuckshops (canteen) serving only good wholesome fruit vegetables and protein foods (no chips, cheesels, crisps etc.) the detention rooms were empty, the classrooms of children were happily working away. No fights or arguments in the playgrounds and everyone was happy (especially the mothers who now had happy kids instead of horrid little monsters to collect after school).
    Several other areas and schools followed suit with similar results.
    Personally, I have always held the view that humans were not meant to eat chemicals (whether they masquerade as foods or drinks) and that is why there are so many modern diseases.
    Not all people have the same reaction to these chemicals (think toxins), some get asthma, skin conditions, diabetes,
    cancers, growth problems and behaviour and mental problems. The list is endless.
    The biggest disease we face today in our modern world is that of corporate greed and lack of honesty and integrity. These businessmen are willing to put the health and welfare of people all over the world at risk just to fill their bank accounts.
    After all, ill health is a fast growing industry promising much wealth. (I’m a cynic, I guess!)
    Interested to see other people’s comments about this. Cheers

  10. Peggywho, Do you have a link for the Queensland school comment you made above? A google search shows a lot of work being done in the area of proper eating, but I’m yet to find a report on backing up your comment.
    Proper eating has made a world of different for me, I only wish I’d done it sooner.