Background: Premature or low-birth-weight children have increased gut permeability compared with term or normal-birth-weight children.
Objective: To determine whether premature or low-birth-weight children have an increased risk of developing food allergy compared with term or normal-birth-weight children.
Methods: The 1995 Manitoba Birth Cohort was studied using the Manitoba Health Services Insurance Plan (MHSIP) database. This database is a population-based, health care administrative and prescription database. It has records of every child born and subsequent utilization of the provincial health care system. The diagnosis of food allergy (ICD-9-CM code of 693 in hospital/medical claims or a prescription of injectable epinephrine excluding a sole diagnosis of venom allergy) was obtained up until the year 2002. The relative risks of food allergy in premature or low-birth-weight children compared with term or normal-birth-weight children were determined.
Results: A total of 13,980 children were born in 1995 and continue to live in the province of Manitoba. Of these, 592 children (4.23%) were found to have food allergy and epinephrine was prescribed in 316 (2.26%) children. No gestational age or birth weight group had a statistically significant increased risk for food allergy.
Conclusion: Prematurity and low birth weight are not associated with a change in risk for development of food allergy in childhood.
Clinical implications: Immaturity of the gastrointestinal tract or immune response does not seem to change the risk for development of food allergies. We ask whether early exposure to food antigens may protect premature children by increasing immune tolerance to those antigens.