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Two out of five kids with potentially fatal food allergy

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Child food allergies

Researchers find higher, more severe food allergies than known among children

A large study shows the magnitude of food allergies that affects almost 6 million children in the United States. That estimate, according research led by Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a pediatrician at Children's Memorial Hospital, is much higher than past statistics. The study finding showed two out of five, or 38.7 percent of children surveyed, had severe reactions to food that could lead to death.

In 2007, estimates from the CDC revealed 3 million children under age 18 years (3.9%) had a reported food allergy.

The study, funded in part by The Food Allergy Initiative (FAI), is part of an impetus to find cures for food allergies in children that Mary Jane Marchisotto, Executive Director of the organization says are increasing in prevalence and “disturbing”. The finding comes from surveys of 40,000 households in the US.

Marchisotto said, “Every day, we hear from families who are struggling with the emotional, physical and economic impact of food allergies. That's why FAI is committed to accelerating the pace of clinical trials that will lead to new therapies and ultimately, a cure."

In the surveys that included questions about past and present food allergies, type of reaction, when food allergy started and how it was diagnosed, researchers also found 30 percent of kids have more than one food allergy, showing a trend that is increasing.

The most convincing evidence of food allergy was among Asian and Black children who were also less likely to have received a formal diagnosis.

Dr. Gupta says, “What makes this study so unique is not only the large number of households surveyed, but the amount of data collected for children with a reported food allergy. With this data we are able to differentiate between perceived and convincing food allergies, understand racial and economic differences in food allergy, and understand trends in food allergy diagnosis and testing.”

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Studies also show children with food allergies are more likely to have asthma, eczema and respiratory allergies.

The immune response for those with sensitivity can lead to anaphylaxis from difficulty breathing and low blood pressure.

The most common allergies found in the survey included peanuts, milk and shellfish. Children, age 14 to 17 were more likely to have a food allergy compared to infants up to age 2.

Gupta says, “Now that we understand just how far-reaching the problem of food allergy truly is, we can begin taking the necessary steps to keep these children safe."

If you suspect your child has an allergy to food, which is different than food intolerance, speak with a physician who specializes in treatment.

Symptoms include itching in the mouth, hives and difficulty swallowing. Early symptoms include mild tingling in the mouth and throat that can progress and be fatal if not treated.

The newest finding shows 38.7 percent of children surveyed, or two out of five, have severe food allergies that require immediate intervention with antihistamines or epinephrine injections. The new, large study shows food allergies affects 8 percent of children under age 18, or 5.9 million kids. The authors also found disparities among Asian and Black children who are less likely to be properly diagnosed.

Pediatrics 2011: DOI: 10.1542/peds.2011-0204.
"The prevalence, severity, and distribution of childhood food allergy in the United States"
Gupta R, et al

Image credit: Morguefile