AMITY, CONN. (WTNH) - The question has been raised as to whether or not early exposure can prevent kids from developing food allergies.
It's a question a Connecticut teenager set out to find an answer to.
Currently, 12 million Americans have food allergies.
Now preliminary research, by a 16-year-old high school junior could change the way experts approach food allergies.
Folks could call Zizi Yu a teenage disease detective.
She's a junior at Amity Regional High School, who scoped for clues to answer an intriguing question.
"I wanted to find out whether being exposed to certain things earlier in life would actually decrease the chance of developing allergies later in life," says Yu.
Yu surveyed 258 Amity High Students, ranging from 14 to 18 years old. They responded to questions such as whether they had allergies to six common types of foods, and their age of exposure.
"I found out the age, the definition of early actually differed from food to food. I found that the age for dairy, eggs, wheat, gluten was 12 months, so exposure before 12 months was probably beneficial," says Yu.
The results of Yu's study confirmed, what's known as the Hygiene Hypothesis.
"Which states that the lack of infections earlier in life can actually lead to increased incidents of allergies later in life," says Yu.
Deborah Day is Yu's Science Research teacher, she says she is amazed at the graduate level research Yu accomplished.
"What Zizi did was she read a lot of information in advance to find out what her topic was, and she sought to find someone in that file that could work with and in doing so, she was brought to the university level," says Day.
Yu's research is getting national attention.
She is a regional finalist in the Young Epidemiology Scholars Competition, aimed at inspiring the next generation
of public health leaders. She earns a two thousand dollar scholarship for it.
"She's just the type of student that rises to any challenge, she puts more challenges in front of her," says Day.
"It might be interesting to look at it from an immunology perspective. In this study, I just did surveys, but if I were able to do some lab work, that might confirm my conclusions even more," says Yu.
Yu is one of two Regional Finalists from Connecticut. The other is Frina Lin of The Hotchkiss School.
Both will go to Washington D.C. to compete for more scholarship money, up to 50 thousand dollars.
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