Food Allergies in U.S. Children Have Risen in Past Decade

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More and more families and schools are having to learn how to deal with food allergies as these allergies have increased in children over the past decade.

A new study, published online yesterday in in Pediatrics, reports an increase of food allergies in children of 18% from 1997-2007. Over the same time frame, the number of outpatient visits to medical facilities for treatment of food allergies nearly tripled.

Amy M. Branum, MSPH, and Susan L. Lukacs, MSPH, of the National Center for Health Statistics of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed information from national health surveys that included information on parent-reported children's food allergies, visits to ambulatory care clinics for treatment of allergies, and allergy-related health care usage from 1993 to 2007.

The researchers found by 2007 3.9% children under 17 years of age reported reported having had a food or digestive allergy in the previous 12 months. Rates of reported skin allergy or eczema increased significantly.

The study found that increases in food allergy prevalence were similar across gender and age. However, it was noted that twice as many black children tested positive for peanut allergies and milk allergies as white children. Black children were four times as likely as white children to have shellfish allergies.

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Hispanic children were noted to be more likely to have food allergies than white children, but not as as black children.

The researchers did not note any one reason for the increase, but did question whether it might be due to increased awareness by physicians and parents and increased reporting of food allergy events.

Food allergy is an abnormal response to a food triggered by the body's immune system. Allergic reactions to food can sometimes cause serious illness and death. Tree nuts and peanuts are the leading causes of deadly allergic reactions called anaphylaxis.

Problem foods for children are eggs, milk (especially in infants and young children) and peanuts. As the child gets older and in adults, fish and shellfish can become a trigger.

Signs and symptoms of food allergies can include digestive problems, hives or swollen airways. In children, they can also include eczema.

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Source: Branum A, Lukacs S "Food allergy among children in the United States" Pediatrics 2009; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2009-1210.

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