The rising prevalence of food allergies in children may be tied to increasing consumption of processed junk food, according to University of Naples researchers.

The new study found higher levels of advanced glycation end products, or AGEs, in children with food allergies. AGEs are proteins or lipids that have become glycated when exposed to sugar during cooking or processing. This occurs when a covalent bond forms, without the regulation action of an enzyme.

While AGEs do occur naturally in the body, high quantities are found in processed foods. They’ve been linked to a variety of other health conditions such as diabetes and neurological disorders, but the new study is the first to find a connection to food allergies.

The researchers tracked three groups of children between the ages of 6 and 12, including a group with food allergies, a group with respiratory allergies, and a healthy control group. The children’s parents kept food diaries for seven days. The researchers found a correlation between subcutaneous levels of AGEs and junk food consumption, as well as a link between higher levels of AGEs and food allergies.

“They are consuming a lot of snacks, a lot of hamburgers, a lot of French fries, a lot of commercial foods full of AGEs,” said lead researcher Roberto Berni Canani.

According to Canani, the children with food allergies and higher AGE levels ate 20 to 40 percent more junk food than those without food allergies.

High levels of AGEs are found in processed food, microwaved food, and even some cooked meats.

There is mounting evidence suggesting that childhood food allergies are on the rise, on top of established evidence of rising processed food consumption.

According to Canani:

“As of yet, existing hypotheses and models of food allergy do not adequately explain the dramatic increase observed in the last years – so dietary AGEs may be the missing link. Our study certainly supports this hypothesis, we now need further research to confirm it. If this link is confirmed, it will strengthen the case for national governments to enhance public health interventions to restrict junk food consumption in children.”

However, Canani pointed out that other factors have been linked to the rising prevalence of food allergies, such as problems in the gut microbiome. The small size of the study, including 61 children among all three groups, suggests further research is necessary.

The research was presented at the annual meeting of the European Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, in Glasgow, Scotland.

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