Food Allergies by the Numbers

Food Allergies by the Numbers

There’s a line forming behind you at the ice cream truck. Children are clutching their dollars waiting to make their selections of scrumptious treats. Adults are eyeballing the visual menu, their mouths watering as they recall the way those cold goodies are intertwined with their youth. You, meanwhile, are patiently scanning labels trying to ascertain whether the Spiderman pop with the bubblegum eyes is safe for your daughter or if your son can indeed enjoy the strawberry shortcake ice cream bar. In that moment, you may feel like you’re the only one on the block who can’t just grab and go when it comes to food, but according to the latest research, you’re very much not alone.

Rate Among Children Remains Steady

According to the “Public Health Impact of Parent-Reported Childhood Food Allergies in the United States” study published in Pediatrics, 5.6 million children have at least one food allergy. Let’s break that down to a more manageable number. This figure translates to about 8%, or 1 in 13 children in the US. These numbers are akin to the figures reported in a similar study in 2011.

Top 8, Plus One

Currently the US FDA requires clear labeling on pre-packaged food items for 8 of the most common food allergens: peanut, tree nut, shellfish, fish, egg, wheat, milk and soy. The aforementioned study has also found that 0.2% of children report an allergy to sesame, which makes it the 9th most common food allergy, falling within a prevalence rate similar to the existing list of 8. Food allergy advocates have begun pressing for a change in the current FDA labeling laws to have sesame added to the list of allergens that must be included clearly on ingredient lists of pre-packaged foods.

It’s Not Just Kids

Many believe food allergies predominately impact children. Another study released earlier this year changes that perception. In fact, according to “Prevalence and Severity of Food Allergies Among U.S. Adults,” published in JAMA Network Open, more than 26 million adults (18 and older) have at least one food allergy. This number is three times higher than previously reported and represents about 11% of US adults.

Difference in Suspected vs. Confirmed Cases

Both studies found a notable difference between self-reported cases of food allergy and medically confirmed cases. Researchers found more than 11% of surveyed parents believed their children to be food-allergic, whereas, only 8% had a reaction history consistent with IgE-mediated food allergies. In adults, the difference was even more pronounced. 19% of adults surveyed believed they have a food allergy, but data collected via the cross-section survey designed to eliminate those who believed they had an allergy but did not report symptoms related to an IgE-mediated food allergy, indicated only 10.8% adults were allergic.

Why That Matters

Those who worked on both studies, as well as other allergy pros, stress the importance of seeking confirmation from a board-certified allergist for any suspected food allergy. Study authors expressed a concern that some may be avoiding foods unnecessarily, which could have a negative impact on quality of life and nutrition. 

The Highlight Reel

If you click through the links to view either of these recent studies, you’ll find a lot of stats and medical terminology. It’s worth wading through, but if you’re finding yourself bogged down in the nitty-gritty, here are the key takeaways: Food allergies are a cross-generational problem that impact nearly 32 million Americans. If you suspect you’re one of them, schedule an appointment with an allergist to confirm the diagnosis and get a handle on how to live safely with food allergies. If you know someone (or several!) with food allergies, become an advocate. Today, there is no cure for food allergies. Allergic individuals manage their health by taking steps to avoid the foods that will trigger a reaction and must carry life-saving epinephrine to treat severe reactions if they occur. Advocates can help by calling for more research funding and educating others about the steps that can be taken to keep food-allergic individuals safe. You’ll find some suggestions to help you take on this role throughout the Allergy Ninja Blog.

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