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The High Cost of Food Allergies, Burden Falls on Families

Peanuts and Food Allergies

Dr Ruchi Gupta MD MPH of Northwestern University’s Center for Healthcare Studies and colleagues used survey data from more than 1600 caregivers of a child with a current food allergy, weighted to be representative of the national population. Both direct costs (in-office medical care, emergency care, etc) and indirect costs (work missed or career sacrifices made) were taken into account.

The most common allergies in the sample population included peanuts (29%), milk (22%), and shellfish (19%).

Overall, children’s food allergies cost an estimated $24.8 billion each year in the US, with most of the burden falling on the families. For medical needs such as prescriptions or special foods plus insurance co-pays and physician care, families paid $5.5 billion out of pocket – an average of $931 per child per year.

Calculations based on care and events reported by caregivers indicated the following annual totals:
• $1.9 billion for hospitalizations
• $819 million for outpatient visits to allergists
• $764 million for emergency department visits
• $543 million for pediatrician visits
• $1.7 billion in special diets/allergen-free foods

However, the above figures only tell part of the story. Lost opportunities at work cost families an additional $2,529 per child annually:

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• $318 million in work missed due to time caregivers spent at allergist visits (using the mean national hourly wage)
• $165 million for caregiver work missed due to pediatrician visits
• $148 million for work missed due to emergency department visits

According to caregiver responses, just over 9% had forgone labor market activities due to their child’s food allergies, most often by restricting their career choice or by giving up a job in order to be home to care for their child(ren). The constant threat of an accidental exposure means a parent needs to be available quickly in case of an emergency, the researchers noted.

"Unlike other common childhood diseases in which most costs are borne by the healthcare system, childhood food allergy disproportionately burdens family finances," Dr. Gupta writes. “Given these findings, research to develop an effective food allergy treatment and cure is critically needed.”

"Ultimately, to reduce the economic effect on families due to lost opportunity, additional policies to ensure safe environments and to provide health insurance coverage of special needs for food-allergic children are essential," the authors conclude.

Journal reference: Gupta R, et al "The economic impact of childhood food allergy in the United States" JAMA Pediatr 2013; DOI: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.2376.

Additional Resource: Allergic Living Magazine