EATING junk food could increase the severity of asthma and eczema in youngsters, research suggests.

Consuming more than three portions of fast food a week has been linked with severe asthma in children and teenagers. The findings, from the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood, have prompted the authors to suggest a fast food diet may be contributing to the rise in the conditions.

Teenagers have a 39% increased risk of severe asthma if they eat more than three helpings of burgers, chips and pizza each week - while children have 27% increased risk, researchers said.

And children and teens who consume three or more portions of fast food have an increased risk of severe eczema and severe rhinitis - a condition characterised by a runny or blocked nose and itchy and watery eyes, according to the study published in the respiratory journal Thorax. The researchers said that if the link was proved to be causal, it would have major implications on public health. They examined data concerning 319,000 13- and 14-year-olds from 51 countries and 181,000 six- and seven-year-olds from 31 different countries.

The teenagers and parents of the six- and seven-year-olds were quizzed on symptoms of asthma, rhino conjunctivitis and eczema and throatier weekly diet.

Researchers also found that eating fruit could have a protective effect on the youngsters. Consuming three or more portions a week was linked to a reduction in symptom severity of between 11% and 14% among teens and children, respectively.

The authors wrote: “If the association between fast foods and the symptom prevalence of asthma, rhino conjunctivitis and eczema is causal, then the findings have major public health significance owing to the rising consumption of fast foods globally.”

They added: “Our results suggest that fast food consumption may be contributing to the increasing prevalence of asthma, rhino conjunctivitis and eczema in adolescents and children.”

Malayka Rahman, research analysis and communications officer at Asthma UK, said: “This research adds to previous studies that suggest a person’s diet can contribute to their risk of developing asthma, and indicates the benefit of further research to determine the effects that particular food groups can have on the chances of developing asthma or the impact it may have on severity.

“Evidence suggests that the vitamins and antioxidants found in fresh fruit and vegetables have a beneficial effect on asthma. Therefore Asthma UK advises people with asthma to eat a healthy, balanced diet including five portions of fruit or vegetables every day, fish more than twice a week, and pulses more than once a week.”                          –IE