Food Allergies A Bigger Problem Than Previously Reported

Dr. Greene’s take on the increase in food allergies…

If it seems like nowadays there’s someone in every school classrooms with a food allergy, that’s because almost 1 in 12 kids today have food allergies – and 1 in 32 have serious food allergies, serious enough to have already caused the child to have symptoms like trouble breathing, a drop in blood pressure, or shock, according to a 2011 study of almost 40,000 US households.

Peanuts, milk, and shellfish were the top three foods kids were allergic to at any age. Milk was number one from birth to age 2, peanuts from 3 to 13 years old, and shellfish beyond the 14th birthday. Rounding out the top nine allergic foods throughout childhood, in order, were tree nuts, eggs, fish, strawberries, wheat, and soy.

More than half of those who were allergic to peanuts or tree nuts had experienced a severe reaction. Severe reactions were also found in more than 40% of those allergic to shellfish, soy, or fish. Among the top allergy foods, strawberries were the least likely to have triggered a severe reaction – but it still happened in 1 in 5 strawberry-allergic kids.

Other new findings: peanuts and fish both caused allergies in more kids than previously reported. And among kids allergic to any food, more than 30% had multiple food allergies. As one might guess, those with multiple food allergies were even more likely to have had a severe reaction (makes sense, but not demonstrated before).

Allergies can come and go. Food allergies were common in children of every age, but most common from age 3 to 5. Severe food allergies, on the other hand, got more common with age and were more than twice as likely in kids 14 and over than in those 2 and under.

Gupta RS, Springston EE, Warrier MR, Smith B, Kumar R, Pongracic J, and Holl JL. “The Prevalence, Severity, and Distribution of Childhood Food Allergy in the United States.” Pediatrics. Jul 2011; 128(1):e9-17.

Published on: June 20, 2011
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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