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Food, Agriculture, Public Health

Prevalence, severity and distribution of childhood food allergies in the United States



Previous attempts at quantifying the scope of food allergies among U.S. children have produced a wide range of estimates, from 2% to 8%. From a public health standpoint, getting more details on the main causes of causes of food allergies, and precise demographics of those afflicted, is crucial.

A 2011 study published in the journal Pediatrics, “The Prevalence, Severity and Distribution of Childhood Food Allergy in the United States,” analyzed data collected on nearly 40,000 children, as reported by adults in their households. Both unconfirmed cases of allergies that were reported along with convincing evidence and cases confirmed by a medical professional were counted and analyzed.

The study’s findings include:

  • 8% of children had at least one food allergy, a projected total of 5.9 million children across the U.S. population
  • 2.4% of the children in the study had multiple food allergies, nearly one-third of those with allergies.
  • The prevalence of severe food allergies among the children studied was 3.1%, or 38.7% of the children with allergies.
  • Peanut allergies were the most common at 2% of the children in the study. The next most prevalent were milk and shellfish, with rates of 1.7% and 1.4%, respectively.
  • The likelihood of food allergies among Asian and black children was higher than that for white children. The odds of having a food allergy were “significantly lower” among children in households with annual incomes below $50,000.
  • The chances of a confirmed food allergy were lower for black, Hispanic and Asian children compared to white children.
  • Severe food allergies were more prevalent among male children and those who had multiple allergies.

Given the greater specificity provided by this study, the researchers suggest that “the impact of food allergy in the United States may be greater than previously reported.”

Tags: children, food, medicine, food allergy, prevalence, morbidity, disparities, epidemiology

    Writer: | Last updated: June 28, 2011

    Citation: Gupta, Ruchi, S.; et al. "The Prevalence, Severity, and Distribution of Childhood Food Allergy in the United States", Pediatrics, Vol. 128, No: 1, June, 2011, e9-e18. doi: 10.1542/peds.2011-0204.

    Analysis assignments

    Read the Pediatrics study "Prevalence, Severity and Distribution of Childhood Food Allergy in the United States."

    1. Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
    2. Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
    3. Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)

    Read the issue-related New York Times article "Food Allergies Take a Toll on Families and Finances."

    1. If you were to rewrite the article based on knowledge of the study, what key changes would you make?

    Newswriting assignments

    1. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
    2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
    3. Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
    4. Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.

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