11/24/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The EpiPen: The Latest Kids Accessory

This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched a startling study announcing that the number of children with food allergies has increased 18% in the last decade. In 2007, 3 million children had food allergies with about 9,500 of these cases resulting in hospitalization. And this increase is not because there is greater awareness--doctors actually believe that the increase is "real" which means that there must be something about the way we live that is causing this increase.

But what really stopped me in my tracks was that children with food allergies are two to four times as likely to have related conditions such as asthma or other allergies. And guess whose very own children have nut allergies AND asthma....

My two oldest children are both allergic to nuts. So are a rapidly growing number of kids. I never knew anyone with a peanut allergy when I was growing up. And yet, for children under five, the rate of peanut allergies doubled between 1997 and 2002. And the median age at which the first reaction to a nut allergy occurs is getting younger; the most recent research says it's appearing at fourteen months. Despite many studies, no one knows why this is happening. Here's what I know. My third child, who was raised in a non-toxic home, eating only organic formula and food, recently tested allergy free. Look, I can't be certain that our new lifestyle is the reason this baby is allergy free, but it sure does make you think.

So the real mystery here is why? There are many theories out there about why food allergies are on the rise in children. "Food allergies can be genetic; however, I believe that the increased prevalence of genetically-modified food may have significantly contributed to the growing rate of food allergies in children," says Dr. Alan Greene, a pediatrician at Stanford University and author of Raising Baby Green. "It is possible that the addition of genes in our food can cause new
allergens to emerge, causing allergic reactions in susceptible individuals, especially children. Exposures to other chemicals could also be contributing, as well as not getting enough of certain
healthy foods. In fact, mounting evidence suggests a mother's habits while pregnant can affect whether or not her children will develop allergies."

A growing number of experts agree with these existing theories. But until we figure it out, what is there to do? Not much except to feed your children the cleanest nutrition possible, keep your child away from the culprits, and never leave home without your EpiPen.