Eight Percent of U.S. Children Have Food Allergy, Pediatrics Study Finds

A new study published in Pediatrics estimates that about 5.6 million U.S. children – nearly 8 percent – have food allergies, and more than one-third of these children are allergic to multiple foods. The study’s findings highlighted the seriousness of this disease, finding 20 percent of children with food allergy had required emergency room care during the past year for a life-threatening reaction to food, and 42 percent reporting that their food allergy had caused at least one previous emergency department visit. However, at the time of the survey, only 40 percent of the children with food allergies had a current prescription for an epinephrine auto-injector, even though delay in epinephrine administration is a risk factor for fatal allergic reactions.

“Food allergies among children continue to increase at an alarming rate, as evidenced by this new study, and this is unacceptable,” said FARE CEO Lisa Gable. “Living with food allergies can be difficult, especially for kids and their families.  We are committed to moving the needle on this disease through a bold strategy that will lead to new and improved treatments, greater awareness, and innovative approaches to managing the disease. We can no longer afford to wait.”

To assess food allergy prevalence, researchers from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago collected survey data for more than 38,000 children and used the data to estimate the population of children in the United States with food allergies. Peanut allergy was the most common food allergy reported in U.S. children, followed by allergies to milk, shellfish and the remaining "top eight" allergens:

  • peanut (1.6 million children)
  • milk (1.4 million)
  • shellfish (1 million)
  • tree nut (900,000)
  • egg (600,000)
  • fin fish (400,000)
  • wheat (400,000)
  • soy (400,000)

Sesame, the ninth most common food allergen, affects about 150,000 children, and the study’s authors recommend that U.S. allergen labeling laws be expanded to require sesame labeling. (Last month, the FDA issued a statement that signals the administration’s first steps in consideration of labeling for sesame.)

As in a previous prevalence study published by these researchers in 2011, the current study found that food allergy prevalence varied among racial and ethnic groups, with black children more likely to have food allergies than white children and more likely to have multiple food allergies than children of other races and ethnicities.

More research is needed to understand the reason behind these racial differences in food allergy, according to lead author Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, of Lurie Children’s. 

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