The Dark Reason Behind Increasing Milk Allergy Rates In Babies

A leading UK doctor has taken aim at the makers of baby formula, claiming they are responsible for a rise in the number of children being diagnosed with cows milk protein allergy.

In a paper published in The British Medical Journal, Chris van Tulleken, Ph.D, wrote that in the UK  alone, children were being diagnosed with cows’ milk protein allergy (CMPA) at a nearly 500 percent higher rate in 2016 compared to 2006.

Despite the rise in diagnoses, van Tulleken writes that there isn't actually any evidence to suggest that children are actually developing the allergy. He points to two research papers from the British Journal of General Practice -- one from 2007 and the other from 2016 -- which show no significant rise in CMPA diagnoses in that time.

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Chris van Tulleken writes that there isn't actually any evidence to suggest that children are actually developing the allergy. Source: Getty

So what's behind the rise?

Well, according to van Tulleken, it may have something to do with the doctors who are making the diagnosis and whether or not they're receiving kickbacks from formula makers.

He writes: "The extensive links between the formula industry and the research, guidelines, medical education, and public awareness efforts around CMPA have raised the question of industry-driven overdiagnosis."

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"The basic research that provides the evidence that an infant can get a serious allergy through allergens in breastmilk is really really weak," van Tulleken told Inverse.

Doctor Bob Boyle, who works as a consultant paediatric allergist at London's Imperial College, suggests that "there are many more milk allergy guidelines published than for other food allergies."

"Many have direct or indirect support from industry, which has a lot to gain from increased specialised formula use"

While drug industry sponsorship of medical education is common, sponsorship by formula manufacturers is regulated by a code of practice,  World Health Organisation's International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. The code stipulates that companies that make milk substitutes are not supposed to directly educate mothers, create conflicts of interest, or advertise through health systems.

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Chris van Tulleken, it may have something to do with the doctors who are making the diagnosis and whether or not they're receiving kickbacks from formula makers. Source: Getty

Van Tulleken writes: "The scientific literature shows that physician contact with drug industry representatives leads to increased cost and reduced quality of treatment. Trials funded by industry are more likely to produce results that favour the sponsor."

His research, while not directly naming any company or medical practitioner, found that much of the patient and medical education around CMPA is funded by the formula industry.

Here's the clincher. A 2018 report published by Save the Children found that formula companies have been offering gifts to healthcare workers -- such as doctors and midwives.

Chris van Tulleken writes: "The scientific literature shows that physician contact with drug industry representatives leads to increased cost and reduced quality of treatment. Source: Getty

Back home, Dr Chris Moy, who is the Chair of the Ethics and Medico-Legal Committee at the Austraian Medical Association told 10 daily that they're "not aware" of the practise taking part in Australia.

"The main issue here is not the allergy -- as serious as it can be -- but rather a conflict of interest," he said.

"However, I could be concerned if there was a strategy taking place in the formula industry to target doctors who work within this field"

Dr Moy said the AMA has very clear guidelines on how medical practitioners should deal with any company sponsorships.

"Doctors have a primary obligation to their patients who should always be their first concern," he said. "Doctors should always be very upfront about declaring this".

Dr Moy said he encourages anyone who is concerned their doctor might not be declaring a conflict of interest to simply ask.

"It is an absolutely reasonable thing to ask," he said.

"If a patient has heard about their doctor being involved in something ask them about it because as doctors, we should always be upfront. If we're not, it just ends up undermining the entire doctor-patient relationship," he said.

Feature Image: Getty