|Chicago: A national study published in JAMA Pediatrics shows the financial impact of caring for children with food allergies costs families billions of dollars each year.
Headed by Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a physician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, the study focused on the economic impact of childhood food allergies in the United States (U.S.). Eight percent of children in the U.S. – about 1 in 13 children – have food allergies, which costs an estimated $24.8 billion annually ($4,184 per year per child). Direct medical costs – those expenses that consist of doctor’s visits, emergency department visits, and hospitalizations – account for an estimated $4.3 billion alone.
Having a child with food allergy increases the yearly cost of raising a child by about 30 percent. According to the USDA’s “Expenditures on Children by Families” report, for the year 2012, annual child-rearing expenses per child for a middle-income, two-parent family ranged from $12,600 to $14,700, depending on the age of the child. With the added costs identified in the new JAMA Pediatrics study, these numbers would climb to a range of $16,784 to $18,884.
“This is the first study of its kind to take a look not only at the medical costs of caring for a child with food allergy, but also at the costs to the families,” said Gupta. ”The majority of the costs, over $20 billion, were out-of-pocket expenses including the costs of caretakers, special safe schools and camps, special foods and lost opportunities like parental job changes.”
“A food allergy diagnosis is life-altering. In addition to the significant medical, emotional, and social impacts, these findings show that the financial costs associated with caring for a child with food allergies are another challenge families are facing,” said John L. Lehr, CEO of Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), which provided funding for the study. “With more and more people being diagnosed with food allergy each year, we are likely to see these costs continue to rise. Raising awareness, educating the public, and investing in research to find a cure for this potentially life-threatening disease are imperative.”
For the study, parents completed a survey where they answered questions regarding spending habits, regularity of medical treatment, and their estimated willingness to pay for treatment. The largest cost to families is the loss of a job or the reduction in working hours due to the need to care for a child with food allergies.
“The stress of eating at an uncontrolled location, like school, makes parents nervous because an accidental ingestion can happen at any time,” said Gupta. “As nearly 40 percent of these children have already experienced a severe or life-threatening reaction, some parents have made the difficult decision to leave a job in order to ensure safer environments and more closely monitor their child.”
Research showed many families were unwilling to take a job that required leaving their child unsupervised for long periods of time and preferred to look for employment that would provide ready access to their child in case of an accidental exposure.
Other members of the research team include David Holdford, RPh, PhD, Lucy Bilaver, PhD, Ashley Dyer, MPH, Jane L. Holl, MD, MPH, and David Meltzer, MD, PhD.
Lurie Children’s is one of the top children’s hospitals in the country according to U.S. News & World Report.It is the pediatric training ground for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and one of only a handful of U.S. children’s hospitals with a dedicated pediatric research center. It was the first children’s hospital in the country to receive the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Magnet Award for Nursing Excellence.