Six million US children suffer from food allergies

June 22, 2011

According to a survey of more than 38,000 families, 8% of children in the United States suffer from a food allergy—a considerably higher number than reported in previous studies. In addition to estimating that 5.9 million children under age 18 now have a food allergy, the new study, published in Pediatrics, found that nearly 39% of the youngsters surveyed had a severe or life-threatening allergy, and that more than 30% had multiple food allergies. Consistent with previous research, the study, funded by the Food Allergy Initiative (FAI), reported that children with a tree nut or peanut allergy tend to have the most severe reactions.

“This is the largest study ever conducted on the prevalence of food allergy in U.S. children and it differs from previous studies in important ways,” said the principal investigator, Ruchi S. Gupta, a pediatrician at Children’s Memorial Hospital and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Ill. “Our goal was to paint a comprehensive picture of childhood food allergy in America. We began by surveying a representative sample of children in the United States and collected extensive information on each and every food allergy reported—including date of onset, method of diagnosis, and reaction history.” Data on race and ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, and geographic region were also collected.

“This study confirms what so many families already know: food allergy is a large and growing public health problem,” said Mary Jane Marchisotto, Executive Director, FAI. “In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that food allergies affected 1 in 25 children; now it’s 1 in 13. That translates into 2 children in every classroom. It is especially disturbing to see how many of these children have multiple food allergies and have already experienced life-threatening reactions.”