Hong Kong children are much less prone to food allergies than those in North America but are still twice as likely to be sufferers than others in Southeast Asia, a study has found.
The Chinese University study found that nearly three out of 100 children in Hong Kong have food allergies, with shrimp being the most common allergy.
That was lower than about 7 per cent in Canada and the United States, but twice the rate on the mainland and in Southeast Asian countries, said paediatrics professor Gary Wong Wing-kin, who led the study.
Researchers randomly surveyed 6,194 children in Hong Kong aged six to 11 from 2008 to 2010, and found that 2.8 per cent had food allergies.
'The 2.8 per cent may sound like a low figure, but it is already serious,' Wong said.
'Imagine the trouble that will cause for these children's parents.'
Some 1.52 per cent of respondents were allergic to shrimps, followed by 0.43 per cent who were allergic to eggs and milk. Other common allergens included fish, crab, peanuts, kiwifruit and mangoes.
Wong said the city was doing better than Western countries, probably because of dietary differences.
'Westerners eat roasted peanuts, but Chinese people have boiled or fried ones. Higher cooking temperature may be more likely to induce allergy,' he said.
Wong said allergies might also be related to hygiene: the less hygienic a place, the less likely people were to develop food allergies. 'A reasonable exposure to microbes and bacteria can normalise the development of the immune system,' he said.
He said that was probably why mainland-born immigrants were less likely to have food allergies - only 1 per cent of them do.
About 30 patients go to the emergency room at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin each year suffering from serious allergic reactions to food. Wong put the figure for the whole city at 300 cases a year.
The mother of a three-year-old boy who is allergic to milk and eggs said Hongkongers did not know enough about food allergies. 'Once we were at a restaurant and specifically asked for a non-egg dish, but the cook ignored our request. They are unaware of the severe consequences of food allergies,' she said.
Yesterday, a Primary Four pupil at Our Lady's Primary School in Wong Tai Sin was sent to hospital suffering from an allergic reaction.
She had eaten a pasta dish for lunch containing pumpkin, which she said she was allergic to.