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Fact Sheet: Reducing the risk of developing food allergy

From the Centre for Community Child Health

Parents hear and read an increasing amount about serious food allergy these days. It’s not simply media chatter; data show that severe food allergy is on the rise in Australia and other developed nations, particularly in young children. However, there are steps that parents and caregivers can take to reduce the risk of children developing a serious food allergy.

Food allergy and food intolerance

Food allergy and food intolerance are often confused with each other, but are actually quite different.

An allergic reaction to food is when the body’s immune system responds to a food as though it’s a threat.
An intolerance to food is any reaction to food that is not an immune response.

It’s important to make the distinction between food allergy and food intolerance. While an intolerance can make people feel very sick and uncomfortable, food allergy can endanger lives.

What can families do to reduce the risk of food allergy?

We do not know how to stop food allergies developing or completely eliminate the risk of them developing. However, there are steps that allergists at The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne recommend as safe and easy ways to reduce the risk of developing food allergies.

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding babies for at least the first six months of life has many benefits for you and your child, but might also help prevent food allergy developing. Keep breastfeeding alongside introducing solid food.

Start solids at about six months

Based on the available evidence, allergists at The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne recommend starting solid foods from around six months.

Get a bit grotty

Let children play in the dirt and get a bit dirty, and avoid using anti-bacterial cleaners on kitchen surfaces. Letting children be exposed to ‘good bugs’ could help to protect against the  development of food allergy.

Get some sun

Recent research has suggested that low vitamin D levels are connected to an increased risk of food allergy. The best way to get vitamin D is to expose our skin to the sun.
There are no guidelines for sun exposure that apply to children, but for fair-skinned adults the recommendation is six to eight minutes exposure without sunscreen, around four to six times a week. Dark-skinned people will need more time, around 15 minutes. About 15 per cent of the skin’s surface needs to be exposed for this amount of time – that can mean hands, face and arms. These guidelines apply before 10am and after 2pm in the summer months. The sun’s strength varies dramatically across the country depending on season, climate and latitude.

Sun Smart provides daily advice for your local area.

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