Collecting information on food allergies, such as prevalence and types, is important because it allows policy makers, healthcare workers, researchers and others to get a clearer picture of how allergies affect people and are changing. Statistics identify areas of greater need, shifts in prevalence that can give clues as to what causes allergies and help companies, schools and government agencies recognize the need to accommodate people with this serious health issue.
How Many People Have Food Allergies?
This is an important question that researchers have been tackling recently in order to get a more accurate count. One large, recent study from 2017 looked at the medical records of nearly three million people to get a clearer picture of food allergy prevalence. With this big number it was possible to get an accurate number. The researchers found that 3.6 percent of the U.S. population has one or more diagnosed food allergies. Several other details came to light from this study:
- The groups with the highest rates of food allergies are Asians and females.
- The allergen most commonly reported is shellfish.
- The next most common allergens are peanuts, tree nuts, eggs and milk.
- One out of six people with a diagnosed food allergy has had an episode of anaphylaxis.
- Food allergies cost $25 billion every year.
- There are not enough allergists and immunologists to adequately treat all the people with food allergies.
- Just one in five people diagnosed with a peanut allergy had any follow-up allergy testing.
Food Allergies Are Increasing
The most recent research into food allergies shows that the prevalence is on the rise in the U.S. and in other western countries including the United Kingdom and Australia. Studies have also found that children of East Asian or African ethnicities who are raised in these countries are at an increased risk of developing food allergies as compared to Caucasian children in the same countries.
The same studies predict that countries in Asia and Africa will begin to see increases in food allergies as their lifestyles become more western. The researchers also predict that food allergies in western countries will continue to rise until treatments get better or the understanding of what causes allergies improves.
International Food Allergy Statistics
There are fewer international studies of food allergies, and the estimates of prevalence vary widely. According to the World Allergy Organization the prevalence seems to be about 2.5 percent, but estimates have ranged from one to 10 percent. Food allergies seem to be increasing worldwide, not just in western countries. The most common food allergens internationally are milk, egg, wheat, fish and tree nuts. Fish allergies are more common in Asia than in western nations.
One study of worldwide food allergies illustrates the difficulty in getting accurate international numbers: of 89 countries surveyed, 52 had no information about food allergies; only nine had reliable information; 23 countries had information based mostly on parents reporting suspected food allergies. This study did determine that in China, food allergy prevalence is growing and nearly seven percent of pre-school children now test positive for one or more food allergies.
This most recent information about food allergies in the U.S. and around the world highlights the need to develop better treatments and to provide better care for the many children who have allergies and are at risk of anaphylaxis. The need for better information is particularly pressing in developing nations, where data on food allergy are hard to get.