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Reuters Health: Children in "food deserts" have higher asthma risk

Children and adolescents who live more than one mile from a grocery store, in so-called "food deserts," may be at higher risk for asthma, a new study suggests.

In a study of 2,043 six- to 18-year-olds, the asthma rate reached 21% among those living at least one mile from a source of fresh food, compared to 17% in those not living in a food desert, according to findings presented November 13 at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology's annual meeting in San Francisco.

"Living farther than a mile from a grocery store was associated with 53% higher odds of having asthma, after controlling for obesity and allergic rhinitis (p=0.022), compared to children who did not live in a food desert," lead author Dr. DeVon Preston of the University of Virginia wrote in his presentation.

The reasons are still under investigation, Dr. Preston said.

In one hypothesis, sterile, highly processed foods that may be more prevalent in a food desert lack natural bacteria and fungi found in fresh foods.

"This may show that the microbiome could be implicated in the development of asthma. And on a deeper level, if this is the case, this may be what is shifting the immune system from a Th1 to a Th2 response, predisposing to an allergic phenotype of asthma," Dr. Preston told Reuters Health by email.

Dr. Chitra Dinakar, a pediatrician and allergist at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Missouri, who was not involved in the study, has a slightly different view. The lack of fresh food may lead to poor nutrition that cripples the immune system and opens the door to asthma and upper respiratory tract infections, Dr. Dinakar suggests.

Or it proximity to a store might be a stand-in for other more important factors.

"It may possibly reflect geographic distance from medical centers and care, resulting in delayed diagnosis and treatment of conditions predisposing to asthma development," Dr. Dinakar told Reuters Health by email.


Read the full story via M.D./alert.

Learn more about the Division of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology at Children's Mercy.