Babies and children * Healthy living * Allergies and hay fever

Three burgers a week linked to childhood asthma

burgers and childhood asthma Healthy diet reduces risk

Jamie Oliver's campaign for better food in our schools received a boost today when it was revealed that children in rich countries who eat more than two burgers a week increase their risk of asthma and wheeze. But those kids who eat a Jamie-approved "Mediterranean" diet rich in fruit, vegetables and fish seem to stave off the risk.

Curiously although eating burgers was linked to higher rates of asthma and wheeze, eating lots of meat in other forms was not. Nor was there any link to burger consumption in poor countries. This has led the researchers to conclude that the regular eating of burgers is just an indicator of other lifestyle factors in rich countries that are responsible for the increase in asthma cases in these children.

But in the case of the protective effects of eating fruit, vegetables and fish the researchers say that there is more evidence that these foodstuffs have a direct physical benefit in providing protection. For instance fruit and vegetables are rich in antioxidant vitamins and biologically active agents, while the omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids found in fish have anti-inflammatory properties, both of which could help prevent asthma and wheeze.

The research team base their findings on data collected between 1995 and 2005 on 50,000 children between the ages of 8 and 12 from 20 rich and poor countries around the world. Just under 30,000 of these children where tested for allergic reactions. The parents of all the children in the study were asked about the eating habits of their child, and whether they had ever been diagnosed with asthma and/or have had wheeze.

Diet did not seem to play a part in hay fever or other common allergies, but it did seem to influence the prevalence of asthma and wheeze.

Conversely high fruit intake was associated with low rate of wheeze in children from rich and poor countries alike.

Children in rich countries were protected by a diet high in fish, and in poor countries lots of cooked green vegetables offered protection against wheeze.

The study was led by Dr Gabriele Nagel at the Institute of Epidemiology, Ulm University, Ulm, Germany and is published in the BMJ's Thorax journal.

This article was published on Thu 3 June 2010

Image © Tomasz Trojanowski -

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