What do kids, men and African-Americans have in common? Well, they are the segments of the American population who are highly susceptible to food allergies.
Recent estimates by an NIH-funded research show that 7.6 million Americans – that’s 2.5% of the country’s population – have food allergies. And of these over 7 million people, the majority are children, non-Hispanic blacks and males.
In order to estimate the prevalence of food allergies, the study used a nationally representative sample and analyzed specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) or antibody levels to measure sensitivity to common food items including peanuts, milk, eggs and shrimps.
According to NIH News:
“The hallmark of food allergy is production of IgE antibodies to a specific food protein. Once IgE antibody is made, further exposure to the food triggers an allergic response. IgE levels are often high in people with allergies.”
The study was very comprehensive and covered all age groups and took into account, ethnicity, gender, and medical history.
The actual food allergy prevalence measured by the study is:
- children 1 to 5 years – 4.2% (highest)
- adults over 60 (lowest)
In terms of types of food allergies:
- peanut, 1.3%
- milk, 0.4%
- egg, 0.2%
- shrimp, 1.0%
In addition, food allergies seem to worsen asthma. People with asthma and food allergies have to be extra careful because they have almost a 7-fold chance of having severe asthma attack compared to those with asthma only. According to lead author Dr. Andrew Liu of the National Jewish Health and the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver:
“This study provides further credence that food allergies may be contributing to severe asthma episodes, and suggests that people with a food allergy and asthma should closely monitor both conditions and be aware that they might be related.”
The study results are very invaluable since “the national prevalence and patterns of food allergy (FA) in the United States are not well understood”, according to the authors. Dr. Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS):
“Having an accurate estimate of the prevalence of food allergies is helpful to public health policy makers, schools and day care facilities, and other care providers as they plan and allocate resources to recognize and treat food allergies.”