“My daughter is allergic to peanuts and tree nuts so I understand some of the difficulties that many parents face,” said Gupta, director of the program for maternal and child health within the Center for Healthcare Studies.
Having published a study in 2011 showing that one in 13 American children suffer from a food allergy, Gupta added to the literature this past summer when she mapped the prevalence of the issue throughout the country.
“We found for the first time that higher population density corresponds with a greater likelihood of food allergies in children,” she said. “The environment has an impact on developing these allergies. The big question now is: what in the environment is triggering them?”
Printed in Clinical Pediatrics, the paper is one of more than 30 first-authored pieces Gupta has published since starting at the medical school in 2006. In that time she has also penned editorials for numerous news organizations and wrote “The Food Allergy Experience,” a book meant to inform parents, teachers, and caregivers about the impact of food allergies on all aspects of a child’s life.
With support from the National Institutes of Health, Food Allergy Initiative, the National Children’s Study, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Gupta continues to look for answers to ailments that affect millions.
“I enjoy working in the community because I get to interact directly with people affected, improving both equity and my understanding of the real world impact that disease can have on daily life,” she said. “I also really enjoy conducting research that can have an influence on policy and improve the lives of children and their families.”
What are your research interests?
My lab is mainly focused on pediatric asthma and food allergy.
What is the ultimate goal of your work?
I would like to be able to improve the health and well-being of children and their families.
How does your research advance medical science and knowledge?
Our research on the prevalence and distribution of food allergy was the first to show that one in 13 children has a food allergy. We also reported what types of food allergy they suffered from, as well as severity. This data has helped pass policies for food allergy management in schools as well as help make progress in overall understanding.
How did you become interested in this research?
I became interested in asthma because it was the number one reason kids came into the clinic and emergency room. There was a big disparity in asthma with underserved kids having higher rates and poorly controlled asthma. I want to help empower kids to manage their asthma and know that they could still do anything they wanted.
I became interested in food allergies when I met a family with two kids suffering from them. They explained to me how difficult it was on their daily lives and how so little was known about it. I started working in the field and became very passionate about the issue and later discovered my own daughter had a food allergy. I now work in all areas of food allergy – clinical, economic, epidemiology, and quality of life.
What do you consider your defining characteristics outside of medicine?
My biggest hobby right now is my family. With work being as busy as it is I cherish my time with my husband and children. We love Chicago summers and living in the city. I also love volunteering and working with the underserved. I do this through my research and outside of work whenever I can.
How has your career changed over time?
I became interested in medicine during middle school and my interest grew throughout high school. I did not know I wanted to be a pediatrician however until my final year of medical school. I decided to go into research in my last year of residency. My career is ever evolving and that is what keeps it exciting. There are so many things you can do in the medical profession.
Who has been your biggest influence?
The biggest influence on my life is my father. He encouraged me to be a physician and taught me to care for the underserved. He instilled in me a passion to help children with difficult chronic diseases and help those less fortunate find their voice so they can learn to advocate for themselves.