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The BBC's James Westhead
"Evidence that the western diet could explain the explosion in child asthma"
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Dr John Britton, Nottingham City Hospital
"We need to find ways of making fruit and vegetables available and acceptable to children"
 real 56k

Professor Anthony Seaton, Aberdeen University
"It is chemicals that you get in good foods which help combat asthma"
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Tuesday, 22 August, 2000, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK
Junk food link to asthma
Jeddah has adopted westernised diets
Scientists believe junk food may be partly responsible for an increase in rates of childhood asthma in developed countries.

Researchers examined communities in Saudi Arabia, where there are striking differences in lifestyle and rates of allergies across the country.

They compared more than 100 children with the symptoms of asthma with 200 non-asthmatic children.

They found that children who had the lowest intakes of vegetables and milk, vitamin E, and certain minerals were at significantly greater risk of asthma-type symptoms.

A diet rich in fruit and vegetables can help to prevent the world's children from developing asthma and wheezy diseases

Dr Martyn Partridge, British Thoracic Society

However, other factors thought to increase risk such as large family size, poverty and parental smoking did not appear to be important.

The researchers found that the children who were most at risk lived in urban areas such as the westernised city Jeddah.

It is in these areas where diets are least nutritious - and where they most closely resemble the junk food-laden fare commonly eaten by children in developed countries.

In contrast, rural children were less likely be asthmatic.

Their traditional Arabic Saudi diet is based on cows' and goats' milk, rice, vegetables, lamb, chicken, dates and local fruits - and contains none of the processed and frozen foods increasingly found in city supermarkets.

The researchers, led by Professor Anthony Seaton from the University of Aberdeen, said: "This study suggests that dietary factors during childhood are an important influence in determining the expression of wheezy illness."

High UK rates

Professor Anthony Seaton
Professor Anthony Seaton: Led research team

One in seven children in the UK suffers from asthma. The number of children under five who develop asthma and wheezing has almost doubled in less than a decade.

Doctors have suspected that diet might play a role in the trend, which is seen throughout the world and associated with prosperous urban lifestyles.

Dr Martyn Partridge, chairman of the British Thoracic Society, said: "This study adds to the evidence that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables can help to prevent the world's children from developing asthma and wheezy diseases.

"Here in the UK, the government has recognised this and committed to providing children with free fruit in school.

"We would urge all health care professionals to help parents understand that eating a balanced diet can have a positive effect on the lungs as well as the heart."

The research is published in the journal Thorax.

A spokeswoman for Burger King said: "Our understanding is that this study does not suggest that eating fast food contributes to the likelihood of asthma, but that eating a diet containing fresh fruit and vegetables can help to prevent it."

She added that Burger King believed hamburgers can be part of a balanced diet.

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