• Section 3. Prevalence of Food Allergies

    Section Summary

    The following topics are included in this section:

    • Food allergies prevalence
    • Common food allergies in infants, children, and adults
    • Food allergies among children
    • Food allergy within families


    Divider 1


    Food Allergies Prevalence

    According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies affect about two per­cent of adults and four to six per­cent of children in the United States, and the number of young people with food allergies has increased over the last decade, according to a recent report by the Centers for Dis­ease Control and Prevention (CDC). Children with food allergies are more likely to have asthma, eczema, and other types of allergies.4

    Food allergies can range from merely irritating to life-threatening. Approximately 30,000 Americans go to the emergency room each year to get treated for severe food allergies, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It is estimated that 150 to 200 Americans die each year because of allergic reactions to food.5

    Researchers are trying to discover why food allergies are on the rise in developed countries worldwide, and to learn more about the impact of the disease in developing nations. More than 17 million Europeans have a food allergy, and hospital admissions for severe reactions in children have risen seven-fold over the past decade, according to the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI).6

    Common Food Allergies in Infants, Children, and Adults

    The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases found that in infants and children, the most common foods that cause allergic reactions are the following:7

    • Egg
    • Milk
    • Peanut
    • Tree nuts such as walnuts
    • Soy (primarily in infants)
    • Wheat

    In adults, the most common foods that cause allergic reactions are the following:

    • Shellfish such as shrimp, crayfish, lobster, and crab
    • Peanut
    • Tree nuts
    • Fish such as salmon

    Food allergies generally develop early in life but can develop at any age. Children usually outgrow their egg, milk, and soy allergies, but people who develop allergies as adults usually have their allergies for life. Children generally do not outgrow their allergy to peanut.

    Foods that are eaten routinely increase the likelihood that a person will develop allergies to that food. In Japan, for example, rice allergy is more frequent than in the United States, and in Scandinavia, codfish allergy is more common than in the United States.

    Food Allergies among Children

    According to a study released in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011.

    Food allergies are a growing food safety and public health concern that affect an estimated 4%–6% of children in the United States. Children with food allergies are two to four times more likely to have asthma or other allergic conditions than those without food allergies.8

    The prevalence of food allergies among children increased 18% during 1997–2007, and allergic reactions to foods have become the most common cause of anaphylaxis in community health settings.

    • In 2006, about 88% of schools had one or more students with a food allergy.

    • Studies show that 16%–18% of children with food allergies have had a reaction from accidentally eating food allergens while at school. In addition, 25% of the severe and potentially life-threatening reactions (anaphylaxis) reported at schools happened in children with no previous diagnosis of food allergy.

    Although the number of children with food allergies in any one school or ECE program may seem small, allergic reactions can be life-threatening and have far-reaching effects on children and their families, as well as on the schools or ECE programs they attend.  The CDC recommends that staff who works in schools and early care and education (ECE) programs should develop plans for how they will respond effectively to children with food allergies.

    The CDC’s guidelines, Voluntary Guidelines for Managing Food Allergies in Schools and Early Care and Education Programs, were developed in response to Section 112 of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which was enacted in 2011. This act is designed to improve food safety in the United States by shifting the focus from response to prevention. Until now, no national guidelines had been developed to help schools and ECE programs address the needs of the growing numbers of children with food allergies. However, 14 states and many school districts have formal policies or guidelines to improve the management of food allergies in schools.

    Many schools and ECE programs have implemented some of the steps needed to manage food allergies effectively. Yet systematic planning for managing the risk of food allergies and responding to food allergy emergencies in schools and ECE programs remain incomplete and in American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology consistent.

    Food Allergy within Families

    According the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, if both parents have allergies, the children have about a 75 percent chance of being allergic. If one of the parents is allergic, or if a relative from either side has allergies, there is 30-40 percent chance of having some form of allergy. If neither parent has allergy, the chance is only 10-15 percent. 

    The amounts of a food or a kind of food eaten, and how often it’s eaten, it may be important as to why a person has become food allergic.9


    Section 2. Food Allergy CategoriesSection 4. Food Allergy Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Testing