August 2011: Volume 37, Number 8
Prevalence of Childhood Food Allergies Worsens
Food allergies now affect an estimated 8% of children in the U.S., or 5.9 million kids, according to a new study published in Pediatrics (doi:10.1542/peds.2011–0204). The prevalence and severity of childhood food allergies are worse than estimates in previously published studies that classified roughly 4.2% of children as allergic to certain foods. While diagnosing food allergies is controversial, the authors stressed that previous studies were often limited by small sample size and lack of data on mode of diagnosis.
The study, “The Prevalence, Severity, and Distribution of Childhood Food Allergy,” included 308,480 children age 0–18 years and examined the factors that increase a child’s odds of developing food allergies. The study suggests that disparities exist in the clinical diagnosis of the disease. The new data indicate that 38.7% of all food-allergic children have a history of severe food-induced reactions and 30.4% are allergic to more than one food.
Increasing evidence indicates that the likelihood of a child developing a food allergy is greatly influenced by race, age, income, and geographic region. According to the authors, there is a direct link between childhood food allergies and impaired quality of life, limited social interactions, and comorbid atopic conditions. The odds of having a food allergy were significantly higher among Asian and African American children than Caucasians. The study also noted that the chances of a confirmed food allergy were notably lower among Asian, African American, and Hispanic children compared with Caucasians.
Peanuts lead the list of foods causing allergic reactions, with 25.2% of children affected. Milk ranks a close second at 21.1% and shellfish follows at 17.2%. Eggs, strawberries, wheat, and soy rounded out the list of the most common childhood food allergies.
The National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases released new guidelines last year that describe the best methods for diagnosing and monitoring food allergies (CLN 2010;36(12). The new study may increase demand for lab testing.
The paper is accessible online.