Facts and Statistics
FARE works on behalf of the millions of Americans who have food allergy, including all those at risk for life-threatening anaphylaxis. This page includes important facts and statistics that can help you better understand food allergies and anaphylaxis.
What Is a Food Allergy?
- A food allergy is a medical condition in which exposure to a food triggers a harmful immune response. The immune response, called an allergic reaction, occurs because the immune system attacks proteins in the food that are normally harmless. The proteins that trigger the reaction are called allergens.
- The symptoms of an allergic reaction to food can range from mild (itchy mouth, a few hives) to severe (throat tightening, difficulty breathing).
- Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that is sudden in onset and can cause death.
To Which Foods Are People Allergic?
- More than 170 foods have been reported to cause allergic reactions.
- Eight major food allergens – milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and crustacean shellfish – are responsible for most of the serious food allergy reactions in the United States.
- Allergy to sesame is an emerging concern.
How Many People Have Food Allergies?
- Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.9 million children under age 18. That’s 1 in 13 children, or roughly two in every classroom.
- About 30 percent of children with food allergies are allergic to more than one food.
Food Allergies Are on the Rise
- The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reports that the prevalence of food allergy in children increased by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011.
- Between 1997 and 2008, the prevalence of peanut or tree nut allergy appears to have more than tripled in U.S. children.
Food Allergy Reactions Are Serious and Can Be Life-Threatening.
- Every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room.
- Each year in the U.S., 200,000 people require emergency medical care for allergic reactions to food.
- Childhood hospitalizations for food allergy tripled between the late 1990s and the mid-2000s.
- About 40 percent of children with food allergies have experienced a severe allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis.
Serious Allergic Reactions Require Immediate Treatment
- Once a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) starts, the drug epinephrine is the only effective treatment.
- Epinephrine (also called adrenaline) should be injected within minutes of the onset of symptoms. More than one dose may be needed.
- Easy-to-use, spring-loaded syringes of epinephrine, called epinephrine auto-injectors, are available by prescription.
- Not treating anaphylaxis promptly with epinephrine increases the risk of a fatal reaction.
Food Allergy Impacts Quality of Life
- Food allergy limits a major life activity and may qualify an individual for protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
- Caring for children with food allergies costs U.S. families nearly $25 billion annually.
- About 1 in 3 children with food allergy reports being bullied as a result.
- Compared to children who do not have a medical condition, children with food allergy are twice as likely to be bullied.
Who Is at Greatest Risk?
- Compared to children who don’t have food allergy, children with food allergy are two to four times as likely to have other allergic conditions, such as asthma or eczema.
- Delaying introduction of allergenic foods does not provide protection against food allergy. In fact, feeding peanut foods early and often to babies with egg allergy or eczema dramatically reduces their risk of developing peanut allergy.
- While most food allergies arise in childhood, at least 15 percent of food allergies are first diagnosed in adulthood.
- Approximately 20-25 percent of epinephrine administrations in schools involve individuals whose allergy was unknown at the time of the reaction.
- Severe or fatal reactions can happen at any age, but teenagers and young adults with food allergies are at the highest risk of fatal food-induced anaphylaxis.
- Individuals with food allergies who also have asthma may be at increased risk for severe or fatal food allergy reactions.
- Most fatal food allergy reactions are triggered by food consumed outside the home.
- More than 15 percent of school-aged children with food allergies have had a reaction in school.
Can Food Allergies Be Outgrown?
- Although allergies to milk, egg, wheat and soy often resolve in childhood, children appear to be outgrowing some of these allergies more slowly than in previous decades, with many children still allergic beyond age 5.
- Allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish are generally lifelong.
Is There a Cure?
- There is no cure for food allergy. Food allergies are managed by avoiding the problem food(s) and learning to recognize and treat reactions symptoms.
- Food allergy therapies are under study in clinical trials, but none has been proven yet for general use.
What to Read Next
Food is not the only allergen that can cause anaphylaxis. Learn about allergic reactions to medication, latex and insect stings.