Food allergies are more prevalent among Israeli adolescents than among their peers in Britain, according to a recent study conducted by the Rabin Medical Center allergy clinic.
The study, led by clinic director Yael Graif, found that 3.6 percent of eighth-graders in this country have a food allergy. A similar study in Britain found that 2.3 percent of adolescents there are allergic to food.
There have been reports in recent years that allergy rates are rising among teenagers around the world, but since this is the first time the incidence among adolescents has been measured in Israel, it is unclear whether the numbers here are on the rise. There is no consensus among scientists as to why the adolescent allergy rate might be rising.
Food allergies captured the nation's attention briefly a year ago when a 26-year-old woman from Eilat who had a severe nut allergy died after a waitress at a Tel Aviv restaurant assured her that the dish she wanted to order did not contain nuts. But overall, food allergies are on the national radar far more in the United States, where nut allergies have become so prominent, and so feared, that some schools don't allow children to bring in products that contain nuts.
Of the 11,171 Israeli eighth graders in the study, 1.9 percent are allergic to milk. The foods that trigger allergies in the rest are eggs (0.6 percent ), peanuts (0.6 percent ) and sesame (0.4 percent ). The findings were compiled using questionnaires, as part of a worldwide epidemiological research program called the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood.
The peanut allergy rate is lower in Israel than in the United States, but higher than in Singapore and the Philippines.
The study also found that Jewish and Arab adolescents have significantly different allergy rates to different foods. Eighty percent of the study respondents were Jewish and the rest Arab.
Arab adolescents are 3.5 times more likely than their Jewish peers to be allergic to eggs, 2.5 times more likely to be allergic to peanuts and 2.3 times more likely to be allergic to sesame, the study found.
It also found that Arab adolescents are 40 percent less likely to be allergic to milk than their Jewish peers.
Researchers speculated that Jews may have a greater degree of lactose intolerance than the general population. They also suggested that perhaps Israeli Jewish children drink less milk than their Arab counterparts because their parents associate dairy products with coughing and asthma attacks among children.
Officials from the health and education ministries and the Tel Aviv University medical school took part in the study.
The study also examined possible links between food allergies and asthma.
It found that 7.2% of Israeli adolescents have been diagnosed with asthma, with no major differences between the Jewish and Arab populations.
Food allergies are more common among children than adults, and often abate after adolescence. The foods that most commonly cause allergies are milk, soy, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts, sesame, fish and some tropical fruits. The vast majority of food allergies are not life-threatening.