Study: More Than One in Ten U.S. Adults Has Food Allergy

A survey of 40,000 U.S. adults finds that 11 percent – or more than 26 million individuals nationwide – have a food allergy, while an additional 8 percent believe they have a food allergy but report symptoms likely to result from food intolerance. Forty-five percent of the adults who report convincing food allergy symptoms are allergic to more than one food, and nearly half developed at least one food allergy during adulthood. Among the survey respondents with food allergy, more than half have experienced a severe reaction and almost four in 10 report at least one lifetime reaction that required emergency care, but of concern, fewer than one in four has a current prescription for epinephrine, the first-line treatment for severe allergic reactions.

“This study highlights the importance of visiting a qualified medical professional if you think you have a food allergy,” notes FARE CEO Lisa Gable. “Self-diagnosis can limit your diet unnecessarily and may prevent you from receiving appropriate care, including epinephrine auto-injectors that can save your life in the event of a severe food allergy reaction.”

Published in JAMA Network Open, the study assessed the prevalence of food allergy in U.S. adults during 2015 and 2016. Data from the survey were used to calculate the number of U.S. adults with food allergies. Shellfish allergy was the food allergy most commonly reported by adults, followed by allergies to milk and peanut:

  • shellfish (affecting an estimated 7.2 million U.S. adults)
  • milk (4.7 million)
  • peanut (4.5 million)
  • tree nut (3 million)
  • fin fish (2.2 million)
  • egg (2.0 million)
  • wheat (2.0 million)
  • soy (1.5 million)
  • sesame (500,000)

This 2019 study in adults complements a 2018 study that surveyed food allergy prevalence in children. The lead author of both studies is Dr. Ruchi Gupta (Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Northwestern University), FARE’s medical advisor on policy, education and public health. Dr. Kari Nadeau (Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research at Stanford University), FARE’s medical advisor for innovation, is a senior author on both studies.