Study links food allergy to autism spectrum disorder in children

A portrait of Assistant Professor Wei Bao of the Department of Epidemiology in the University of Iowa College of Public Health.
Wei Bao

A new study from the University of Iowa finds that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are more than twice as likely to suffer from a food allergy than children who do not have ASD.

Wei Bao, assistant professor of epidemiology at the UI College of Public Health and the study’s corresponding author, says the finding adds to a growing body of research that suggests immunological dysfunction as a possible risk factor for the development of ASD.

“It is possible that the immunologic disruptions may have processes beginning early in life, which then influence brain development and social functioning, leading to the development of ASD,” says Bao.

The study analyzed the health information of nearly 200,000 children gathered by the U.S. National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), an annual survey of American households conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The children were between the ages of 3 and 17 and the data were gathered between 1997 and 2016.

The study found that 11.25 percent of children reportedly diagnosed with ASD have a food allergy, significantly higher than the 4.25 percent of children who are not diagnosed with ASD and have a food allergy.

Bao says his study could not determine the causality of this relationship given its observational nature. But previous studies have suggested possible links—increased production of antibodies, immune system overreactions causing impaired brain function, neurodevelopmental abnormalities, and alterations in the gut biome. He says those connections warrant further investigation.

“We don’t know which comes first, food allergy or ASD,” says Bao, adding that another longitudinal follow-up study of children since birth would be needed to establish temporality.

He says previous studies on the association of allergic conditions with ASD have focused mainly on respiratory allergy and skin allergy, and those studies have yielded inconsistent and inconclusive results. The new study found 18.73 percent of children with ASD suffered from respiratory allergies, whereas only 12.08 percent of children without ASD had such allergies, and 16.81 percent of children with ASD had skin allergies, well above the 9.84 percent of children without ASD.

“This indicates there could be a shared mechanism linking different types of allergic conditions to ASD,” says Bao.

Bao says the study is limited in that the NHIS depends on respondents to voluntarily self-report health conditions, so the number of children with ASD or allergies may be misreported by those taking the survey. But he says the large number of respondents and ethnic and gender cross-representation of the survey are major strengths.

The study, “Association of Food Allergy and Other Allergic Conditions with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children,” was published online in the June 8 issue of JAMA Network Open. The first author is Guifeng Xu, PhD candidate in the UI College of Public Health and graduate research assistant in the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine. Additional co-authors include Linda G. Snetselaar, professor of epidemiology in the UI College of Public Health; Jin Jing, professor of maternal and child health at the Sun Yat-Sen University in China; Buyun Liu, postdoctoral researcher in the UI College of Public Health; and Lane Strathearn, professor of pediatrics in the Carver College of Medicine.

This story originally appeared in Iowa Now

Additional Media Coverage

American Journal of Managed Care
http://www.ajmc.com/newsroom/is-there-a-link-between-autism-food-allergies-study-offers-hint-but-no-answers

Express News
http://expressdigest.com/children-with-autism-twice-as-likely-to-have-had-food-allergies/

HealthDay
https://consumer.healthday.com/cognitive-health-information-26/autism-news-51/allergies-more-common-in-kids-with-autism-734691.html

Healio
https://www.healio.com/family-medicine/pediatrics/news/online/%7B95efa83e-fbe7-4394-985c-75a11948d613%7D/food-allergies-common-in-children-with-autism

Dermatology News
https://www.mdedge.com/edermatologynews/article/167673/pediatrics/allergies-linked-autism-spectrum-disorder-children

MD Magazine
http://www.mdmag.com/medical-news/autism-rates-nearly-tripled-in-children-with-food-allergies

Medscape
https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/897833

MedicalResearch.com
https://medicalresearch.com/mental-health-research/autism/food-allergies-more-common-in-children-with-asd/42234/

 

Mueller testifies at Senate hearing on rural health care

On May 24, Keith Mueller, interim dean of the University of Iowa College of Public Health and director and chair of RUPRI’s Rural Health Initiatives, testified at a United States Senate Finance Committee Public Hearing on rural health. The hearing focused on challenges and opportunities in rural health care delivery.

Afifi named interim head of the Department of Community and Behavioral Health

portrait of Rema AfifiDr. Rema Afifi has accepted the appointment to serve as interim head of the college’s Department of Community and Behavioral Health, effective June 1.

Afifi is an outstanding teacher and researcher who provides proven leadership in academic and practice arenas. She is currently leading the department’s development of new strategic priorities, which makes her an ideal candidate to serve in this interim capacity.

A nationwide search to identify a new permanent head of community and behavioral health will commence this summer.

Afifi engages in public health research and practice with intent to promote social, community, and policy environments conducive to well-being. Whenever possible, she uses methods of Community Based Participatory Research; applies an ecological lens to the understanding of the issues; engages multiple disciplines to widen the perspectives on any topic; and emphasizes knowledge transfer of research to practice and policy. She is specifically interested in intervention and implementation science.

Park Road Bridge closed for the summer starting May 14

The Park Road Bridge near Hancher Auditorium, which connects Park Road to North Dubuque Street, will close this summer from May 14 to Aug. 17, according to a release from the city of Iowa City. Drivers who use the bridge will need to seek alternate routes and allow for extra travel time as delays will occur.

The closure is part of Iowa City’s Gateway Project, a construction effort to replace the Park Road Bridge and elevate North Dubuque Street by 10 feet. Designed to reduce traffic problems resulting from flooding, the project began in May 2016 and the city anticipates it to be complete this year.

To maintain service during the closure, University of Iowa Parking and Transportation will adjust CAMBUS routes and schedules beginning May 12.

Access to Hancher Auditorium, Upper and Lower City Parks, and City Park Pool will remain open. The city of Iowa City advises drivers to use Riverside Drive and Park Road from the west. The East Hancher Access Road is expected to be closed until July 24.

Access to Mayflower Residence Hall, as well as homes and apartments adjacent to North Dubuque Street, will be maintained through the remaining construction.

Pedestrians and bicyclists crossing the Iowa River will be detoured to the Hancher Pedestrian Bridge.

City of Iowa City news release with maps

Cambus changes and maps