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Food Allergy Statistics

Posted in Food Allergens on November 30, 2021

Food allergy is a worldwide public health problem and much more common than you may think. In the U.S., nearly 32 million people report having a food allergy. That is almost 10% of the population, and each year, 200,000 people must visit an emergency room for an allergic reaction to food. If you or a loved one was affected by undeclared food allergens or mislabeling of food products, speak with an experienced food allergy lawyer today.

What Foods are People Allergic To?

Food allergies are caused by the body identifying proteins in foods as enemies, and therefore, taking protective measurements to fight back, causing inflammation and other reactions. Over 170 foods have been identified to cause allergic reactions in people with food allergies. Between 2018 and 2019, studies reported estimates on the number of people allergic to these most common allergenic foods:

  • Shellfish: 8.2 million
  • Milk: 6.1 million
  • Peanut: 6.1 million
  • Tree nuts: 3.9 million
  • Egg: 2.6 million
  • Finfish: 2.6 million
  • Wheat: 2.4 million
  • Soy: 1.9 million
  • Sesame: 0.7 million

These foods account for 90% of reactions. In children with food allergies, about 40 percent are allergic to more than one type of food.

Raw foods can cause oral allergy syndrome, also referred to as pollen-food allergy syndrome. While it is not an actual food allergy, people with this syndrome can develop symptoms of an allergic reaction after eating raw vegetables, fruits, and sometimes tree nuts— for example, itchy mouth, scratchy throat, lip swelling, etc. What happens is the immune system gets triggered by pollen and similar proteins in the food. People with this type of allergy don’t usually react to the same fruits or vegetables if they are cooked since the heat changes the proteins.

The Devastating Impact of Food Allergies

  • 220 million people are affected by food allergies worldwide.
  • Every 2 to 3 minutes, someone visits an emergency room from food-induced anaphylaxis in the U.S.
  • 1 in 12 children is diagnosed with a food allergy in the U.S.
  • Between the late 1990s and the mid-2000s, the number of children who were hospitalized for food allergies tripled.
  • Over 50% of adults report developing a food allergy after the age of 18.
  • Between 1997 to 2010, the number of people with a peanut allergy quadrupled.
  • Over 40% of children and more than 50% of adults with food allergies have suffered a severe allergic reaction, such as anaphylaxis.
  • Between 2007 and 2016, treatment of anaphylaxis from food allergies increased by 380%.
  • Caring for children with food allergies costs more than $4,000 per child annually, adding up to close to $25 billion total for U.S. families each year. Roughly $4.3 billion, or $724 per child, of that amount is for direct medical costs and out-of-pocket costs for families was $5.5 billion with about a third of that being for special food.
  • The cost of epinephrine increased 514% between 2007 to 2016.
  • Food allergies cost $24.8 billion to the U.S. economy.

Between 1997 and 2011 food allergies in children increased from 3.4% to 5.1%, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There is no clear answer as to why, but the “hygiene hypothesis,” suggests that children are growing up in more sterile environments now and are not as exposed to germs. Germs which can train the immune system on what is good or bad. Other research points to vitamin D deficiencies and the increased use of antibiotics.

Food allergies in children have also been linked to an increased risk of anxiety, according to a 2017 study in the Journal of Pediatrics. The study focused on over 80 children between four and 12 years of age. The results showed that the children with food allergies had higher levels of anxiety in general and more symptoms of social anxiety.

A 2014 study from The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice also discovered that a third of children are bullied for having food allergies. The results of the study showed that 32% of children with food allergies had been bullied at least once, and about a third of the kids who were bullied more than twice a month.

Who Is at Greatest Risk?

A study published in 2010 found that food allergy rates are higher for children, males, and non-Hispanic black people. The odds of black children who were male having food allergies was 4.4 times higher than any other individual.

Food allergy rates were highest in children 1 to 5 years (4.2 percent), and the lowest rates were found in adults over the age of 60 (1.3 percent). Peanut allergies in children aged 1 to 5 were prevalent at 1.8 percent, and in children aged 6 to19, it was 2.7 percent. In adults, the rate was 0.3 percent.

Patients who had asthma and food allergies were almost seven times more likely to experience a severe asthma attack than those who did not have clinically defined food allergies.

Other research shows children who have food allergies are also two to four times more likely to have other allergic conditions, such as asthma or eczema. Unfortunately, delaying the introduction of allergenic foods to young children does not protect them from developing an allergy. However, giving peanuts early on and often to a baby with eczema or an egg allergy can reduce their risk of becoming allergic to peanuts.

Teenagers and young adults with food allergies have the highest risk of fatal anaphylaxis, although severe reactions can happen at any age. The source of most fatal reactions is food consumed outside the home.

Food Allergens and Eating Out

  • 34% of people with food allergies have experienced an allergic reaction while eating at a restaurant, according to a survey by the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.
  • Nearly 50 percent of food allergy-related fatalities occur in eating establishments, according to a 2017 study from the Centers for Disease Control (US). This could be a sign that restaurant staff require sufficient training on how to deal with allergy emergencies.
  • A survey of 100 restaurant workers performed in 2007 found that 24% believed that a reaction would not occur in people who ate small amounts of an allergenic food. However, even a trace can result in a severe reaction for some.
  • A German study conducted in 2019 discovered that 18.3% of restaurant employees could not name even a single allergenic food. Only 30.2% could name three.
  • 33% of tables scrubbed with soap can still have trace amounts of peanuts.

Which Food Allergies Are You Likely to Outgrow?

  • Most children outgrow egg (80%) and milk (65%) allergies
  • Only 20% of children outgrow peanut and tree nut allergies

Unfortunately, you cannot control whether you outgrow allergies and science hasn’t yet come up with a definitive way to speed up the process of outgrowing a food allergy once it is present.

Is There a Cure for Food Allergy?

Food allergies can be managed by avoiding allergenic foods and treating symptoms, but there is no cure. When a person has a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), the only effective treatment is the drug epinephrine. Also referred to as adrenaline, epinephrine must be injected within minutes of symptoms, and some may require more than one dose. Failing to treat anaphylaxis swiftly drastically increases the risk of a reaction being fatal.

New treatments are being developed and clinical trials are being conducted on food allergy therapies. In 2020, the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first treatment for food allergy, which is a new oral immunotherapy (OIT) for peanut allergy in children between 4 to 17 years old. A drug called Palforzia can reduce the severity of allergic reactions. Here are the results of OIT in clinical trials:

  • Peanut, egg and milk OIT have been shown to desensitize approximately 60 to 80% of patients studied. (AAAAI 2020)
  • Peanut and milk OIT have been reported to induce sustained unresponsiveness in approximately 30 to 70+% of individuals.

Although these results cannot definitely say where desensitization will protect patients from accident exposures in the real world, this approved treatment is a huge milestone.

The Difference Between an Allergy and Intolerance

Food allergy and food intolerance are often used interchangeably, but the physical reactions that occur are different. When someone suffers from food intolerance, the symptoms are generally less serious and often limited to digestive problems, such as abdominal pain, bloating, and frequent diarrhea (gastrointestinal system). However, some food intolerances can cause migraines or fatigue, unexplained muscle and joint pains (musculoskeletal system), and unexplained nasal congestion and discharge (upper respiratory system). Some people may be able to eat small amounts of a problem food without trouble or can prevent a reaction (e.g., lactase enzyme pills).

With a food allergy, an immune system reaction can affect numerous organs in the body. The symptoms are more likely to be a swelling of the tissues (e.g., in the face or throat), a skin rash or hives, asthma, or – in extreme cases – a fall in blood pressure. These symptoms are often immediate and can be severe or life-threatening.