Science: Kids with milk allergies are shorter, lighter than kids with different allergies

Childhood food allergies are a bigger problem than ever in the developed world. Approximately 6% to 8% of kids in the U.S. have a food allergy, and that number has been increasing, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

These food allergic kids face many challenges, from the inconvenient (“What do I order at this restaurant?!”) to the scary (severe allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis). But allergies can also bring less obvious health issues, which researchers continually investigate in order to help kids be as healthy as possible.

Recently, a group of researchers published a study suggesting that kids with allergies to cow’s milk may end up shorter and lighter compared to kids with other allergies — at least, before the teenage years.

“Children who are allergic to cow’s milk had lower mean weight and height when compared with kids who are allergic to peanuts and tree nuts,” said lead study author Karen Robbins.

The researchers studied 191 kids ranging in ages from two years old to 12. In visits to the doctor’s clinic, the kids’ weights and heights were recorded, as well as health conditions like asthma, eczema and seasonal allergies.

The researchers then calculated the mean differences in height, weight and body mass index, comparing their numbers to other children of the same age and gender within the general population. Kids with milk allergies had lower mean weight and height values compared to those with peanut and tree nut allergies, especially with kids over the age of five.

The researchers note that when kids have a milk allergy, they and their families must be careful about what they eat. This means that sometimes, some foods with nutritional benefits have to be written off.

“Looking at food labeling, many items ‘may contain milk,’ which severely narrows what could be a wide variety of food items for growing children,” said Robbins.

Further research intends to figure out if these kids remain short and skinny into adulthood, or if it’s just temporary.

“The relationship between food allergies and childhood growth patterns is complex, and we have an incomplete understanding about the influence food allergies have on children’s growth,” said Robbins. “Our study begins to fill this research gap, but further study is needed, especially as children enter their teens, to gauge whether these growth deficits are transitory or lasting.”

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