Posted On: February 22, 2013 by Patrick A. Malone

Fast Food Diet Shows Link to Breathing Problems

Parents generally don’t need a reason to limit their children’s consumption of fast food—everybody knows chicken nuggets, fries and bacon burgers are load with saturated and trans fats, which have been shown to compromise immunity. Now, a new study in the respiratory journal Thorax seems to show a direct cause-and-effect for specific harms of eating too much junk food.

As reported on, the study results show that eating three or more servings of fast food each week is associated with a higher severity of allergic asthma, eczema (skin inflammation) and rhinitis (inflammation of nasal passages) for children in developed nations.

We’ve blogged about the respiratory signs of allergy.

Dietary data was collected from more than 319,000 13- and 14-year-old teens in 51 countries, and more than181,000 6- and 7-year-olds from 31 countries. All of the study’s subjects were involved in the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC), a collaborative research project involving more than 100 countries and nearly 2 million kids. ScienceDaily says it’s the largest study of its kind.

Parents of the kids were asked about symptoms of asthma (wheezing), rhinoconjunctivitis (runny or blocked nose accompanied by itchy and watery eyes) and eczema (patchy, itchy skin, bleeding blisters), and their weekly diet. They focused on the severity of symptoms over the last 12 months, including frequency and interference with daily life and/or sleep patterns. They also asked about certain foods linked to protective or damaging effects on health.

They included meat, fish, fruits and vegetables; cereals, bread, pasta and rice; butter and margarine; nuts; potatoes; milk; eggs; and fast food/burgers. They asked how often the children ate these foods—never, occasionally, once or twice a week and three or more times a week.

The analysis showed that fast food was the only food category to show the same associations across both age groups. So the authors suggested that "such consistency adds some weight to the possible causality of the relationship."

The study had limitations—relying on one’s memory isn’t the best way to collect objective data—but because the sample was so large and included so many regions, the patterns can’t be ignored.

The relationship between fast food and severity of symptoms for the three conditions was consistent among the teens in all the participating countries, irrespective of gender or family affluence.

The pattern among children was less clear-cut, but except for eczema, a fast food diet still was associated with symptoms across all regions and poorer countries, except for current/severe symptoms of asthma. (See our blog about the quality of hospital care for children with asthma.)

This difference, the authors speculated, might have to do with the fact that children have fewer options about their food choices.

Three or more weekly fast food servings were linked to an increase of severe asthma of more than one-third for teens and more than one-quarter for younger children.

But fruit seemed to be protective for both age groups in all regions for all three conditions among younger children, and for current and severe wheezing and rhinitis among the teens. Eating three or more servings of fruit each week was linked to decreased severity of symptoms for both teens and younger children.

Parents who eat healthfully model this habit for children, who will benefit from it their whole life. The occasional fast food meal is not a problem for most people, but if your child has respiratory problems, he or she might be more vulnerable to its negative effects.

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