Children living in the inner city develop food allergies at rates significantly higher than their peers, a recent study suggests. The study, published in the Aug. 13 online edition of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, found that at least 10 percent of inner-city children become allergic to peanuts, eggs, and milk. The study also showed that well over 40 percent of inner-city children also exhibit sensitivity to certain foods.
“Our findings are a wake-up call, signaling an urgent need to unravel the causes, contributors and mechanisms that drive the high prevalence of food allergies among an already vulnerable group known for its high risk of asthma and environmental allergies,” study senior investigator Dr. Robert Wood, director of pediatric allergy and immunology at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, said in a Hopkins news release.
According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, six percent of children and nearly three percent of adults in the country have at least one food allergy — defined as a bodily reaction to food similar to that of germs. Symptoms include a tingling or burning sensation in the tongue and a tightening of the lips. Eight food groups — including dairy, eggs, fish, wheat, and soy — account for 90 percent of serious allergic reactions in the United States. Researchers say that Clostridia — a stomach bacteria often found in people living in rural areas — can prevent the body from developing food allergies.
The Johns Hopkins study comes on the heels of previous research that has outlined the perils of life in low-income communities. Experts say a weak infrastructure and disparities in resources have contributed to a widening gap in life expectancy between people living in low-income neighborhoods and their wealthier counterparts. In Boston, for example, poor residents can expect to live 22 years less than their more affluent peers, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies’ Place Matters report.
The racial and economic gaps in health outcomes haven’t occurred by accident. In his 2011 report, University of Colorado Boulder researcher William Nichols said that the proximity of low-income neighborhoods to large manufacturing centers, transportation corridors, and waste treatment facilities puts impoverished residents at risk of developing allergies and other ailments. Other studies — including one conducted by the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform earlier this year — showed that low-income African-Americans and Latinos disproportionately lived in areas known as vulnerability zones — neighborhoods low in property value in which residents are exposed to deadly chemicals.
But that’s not all poor urban dwellers have to worry about. People living in impoverished communities disproportionately succumb to a host of other ailments including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. The stress of high crime, poverty, limited health care, and poor schools contributes to depleting health. In recent years, the closure of community and nonprofit hospitals in low-income enclaves have forced residents to take longer hospital trips, often resulting in longer wait times for emergency care and higher incidences of preventable death, as previously reported on ThinkProgress.
Experts say that affordable housing, access to education, public safety, and availability of healthy foods, local emergency and health services, and environments free of life-threatening toxins can improve one’s quality of life. As history has shown, however, African Americans and other minority groups have not been able to easily attain any of those amenities due in part to a system of institutionalized residential segregation that still detaches communities of color from vital social and economic opportunities.
That’s why addressing the issue of food allergies will require public health officials, lawmakers, and the business community to come to grips with the effects of laws that have a lasting impact on where and how people of color live. As researchers Gregory D. Squires and Charis E. Kubrin explained in their 2005 report, the intersection of race and place in the United States drastically impacts the health outcomes of impoverished African Americans from the moment of birth.
“Health disparities may constitute the most concrete disadvantages associated with the spatial and racial divide in urban areas and they manifest themselves quite early in life. Access to clean air and water, exposure to lead paint, stress, obesity, smoking habits, diet, social isolation, proximity to hospitals and other medical treatment facilities, and availability of health insurance all vary by neighborhood and contribute to long-established disparities in health and wellness.”