Allergies are on the rise, study finds

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A study published this week in the journal Pediatrics finds that childhood allergies are on the rise in the U.S., with nearly 4% of children now reporting food allergies. Between 1997 and 2007 self-reported food allergies increased by 18%, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control. The finding comes as small scale battles are being waged across the country to find reasonable, yet effective policies for protecting children with peanut allergies, and medical professionals are steadily experiencing incremental gains in efforts to “cure” children of their allergies.

As my colleague Alice Park wrote early this year, the rising concern about food allergies—and what’s causing them and how best to protect children with allergies—is not at all new (more than a decade ago, TIME was covering this same issue), but the tenor of the debate over best practices seems to be growing increasingly adamant in recent years. While parents of children with allergies are advocating for more stringently protective policies, there are those who wonder if some of these efforts aren’t going too far. As Park aptly summed up: “As more and more schools set up peanut-free zones and as food manufacturers add warning labels that their products might contain particles of peanuts, soy or other allergens, the abundance of caution is starting to trigger a backlash.”

And while the case could be made that this latest confirmation of the increase of food allergies justifies the growing amount of caution, previous findings suggest it’s also possible that our cautiously sterile society may even be contributing to the surge in allergies, not helping prevent it.