Prevalence of Peanut and Tree Nut Allergies on The Rise
Peanut allergies in children increased two-fold over a five year period from 1997 to 2002, according to a study in the December Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI). The JACI is the peer-reviewed scientific journal of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI).
Scott H. Sicherer, MD, and Hugh A. Sampson, MD, from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, along with Anne Muсoz-Furlong from the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), conducted a cross-sectional telephone study of 13,493 people using a standardized questionnaire. The study assessed rates of peanut and tree nut allergies over a period of five years.
Participants were asked a series of questions regarding allergies and seriousness of reactions. Prevalence rates were similar overall to those in the initial study. However, it is significant to note that reported peanut allergy in children increased two fold from .4% in 1997 to .8% in 2002, since this type of allergy typically develops in childhood and is usually not outgrown in adulthood. Based on these facts, one could predict that the number of peanut and tree nut allergies may grow larger over time.
"This study confirms what we've been hearing from growing numbers of families, school administrators and other institutional leaders - food allergy is increasing," said Anne Muсoz-Furlong, founder and CEO of FAAN. "This is a public health and food safety issue that affects all of us. Public policy must change to meet the needs of these patients. Continued food allergy education, improved labeling practice and improved emergency treatment programs - especially where children are involved - are more critical than ever."
Researchers believe there are several reasons for increased rates of peanut allergy in children:
- The increased allergenicity of peanuts when roasted.
- Children eating peanuts when their immune systems are immature.
- The use of topical ointments containing peanut and the use of soy formulas.
Other significant findings from the study on peanut allergy:
- Only 74% of children and 44% of adults with higher severities and reactions sought medical evaluation.
- Out of those who did seek medical treatment, fewer than half were prescribed self-injectable epinephrine.
- A predominance of peanut and tree nut was found in males under the age of 18 and in female adults.
Given that reactions to peanut and tree allergy can be severe, the fact that self-reported peanut and/or tree nut allergies are reported by over 3 million Americans should indicate an increasing health concern.
This study was funded by The Food Allergy Initiative, a national non-profit organization, which supports research to find a cure and clinical activities to identify and treat those at risk for food allergies and anaphylaxis.