Two recent reports on the health of children in this country point out some alarming statistics about the rising rates of autism and learning disabilities, as well as the growing prevalence of food allergies. In the former case, 1 in 6 children today are diagnosed with a developmental disability. In the latter, the rate of food allergies has increased 33% among American children in recent years.
While the statistics themselves are both disturbing and alarming, what jumps out in each case is how "better reporting" and "improved diagnoses" seem to be the scapegoats for these remarkable increases. Although it is indeed possible that awareness raising and diagnostic skills may contribute to higher numbers on both counts, it dumbfounds me to think that we are dismissive of the other possibilities. There are far too many factors to take into account here, especially with such significant increases.
Robyn O'Brien, author of The Unhealthy Truth and Keynote Speaker at the 2011 Natural Living Conference agrees. In her recent blog, she asks "Is Autism Environmentally Triggered?" "The fact is that we have over 80,000 chemicals and toxicants now found in our food an environment. The EPA has evaluated only 200 of these 80,000 and banned only five," she argues. An increase of 265% in hospitalizations related to food allergic reactions is hard to explain through awareness and improved diagnostics. In fact, it begs for more research and explanation.
What's more, not all scientists are on board with this assumption. A 2003 study by Sicherer et al., found that peanut allergies among children doubled between 1997 and 2002 "but there is no indication that the consumption of peanuts—or the awareness of food allergies—increased as significantly during the same period." The time of introduction of solids to infants, the genetic modification of our food supply, and food manufacturing have all been questioned but remain under-reported. As Ms. O'Brien points out, years of research have led us to understand that 9 out of 10 cancers are environmentally triggered. If we continue to disregard environmental factors and to take the easy road of "increased awareness/better diagnosis", we are failing our children. We are leaving far too many stones unturned.