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UK, Saudi study shows junk food-child asthma link

UK, Saudi study shows junk food-child asthma link

LONDON (Reuters) -- Diets rich in junk food could be the culprits behind the rapid rise of asthma and allergies in children, scientists in Scotland and Saudi Arabia said in research published on Tuesday.

"This study suggests that dietary factors during childhood are an important influence in determining the expression of wheezy illness," the researchers said in the latest edition of the medical journal Thorax.

"The frequency of eating at a fast food outlet was significantly related to being a case."

The research concentrated on communities in Saudi Arabia where lifestyles and rates of allergies differed significantly.

A comparison of some 100 children with asthma symptoms and about 200 non-asthmatic children showed that those who had the lowest intakes of vegetables, milk, vitamin E and minerals were more likely to suffer from the disease, the researchers said.

Children whose diets were low in vegetables and vitamin E were two to three times more likely to develop asthmatic symptoms than other children irrespective of other factors such as family size, affluence and parental smoking, they added.

The children most at risk lived in urban areas such as Jeddah where poor diet was associated with the availability of junk food, the researchers said.

"With increasing prosperity and commercial exposure, there has been an influx over some three decades of western-type frozen and prepared foods," the scientists said.

Rural children who ate a more traditional Saudi Arabian diet of cows' and goats' milk, lamb, rice, vegetables, fruit, dates and chicken were less at risk.

Previous studies have linked asthma to diet.

A dramatic increase in asthma in Scotland has been shown to correspond to a decline in the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables in peoples' diets over the last 30 years.

Asthma, the most common chronic childhood disease, is one of the fastest growing ailments, with cases increasing by up to 50 percent every 10 years. An estimated 150 million people worldwide suffer from the condition.

The illness causes inflammation of the small tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. Triggers such as colds, cigarette smoke, pollen, dust mites and animals can cause the gasping and wheezing of an asthma attack.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Thorax -- Abstracts: Hijazi et al. 55 (9): 775
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