According to a national survey of more than 38,000 families, 8 percent of children in the United States suffer from a food allergy –  a considerably higher number than reported in previous studies.  In addition to estimating that 5.9 million children under age 18 now have a food allergy, the new study, published in the July issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, found that nearly 39 percent of the youngsters surveyed had a severe or life-threatening allergy, and that more than 30 percent had multiple food allergies.  Consistent with previous research, the study, funded by the Food Allergy Initiative (FAI), reported that children with a tree nut or peanut allergy tend to have the most severe reactions.

“This is the largest study ever conducted on the prevalence of food allergy in U.S. children and it differs from previous studies in important ways,” said the principal investigator, Ruchi S. Gupta, M.D., MPH, a pediatrician at Children’s Memorial Hospital and assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. “Our goal was to paint a comprehensive picture of childhood food allergy in America.  We began by surveying a representative sample of children in the U.S. and collected extensive information on each and every food allergy reported – including date of onset, method of diagnosis, and reaction history.”  Data on race and ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, and geographic region were also collected.  

“This study confirms what so many families already know: food allergy is a large and growing public health problem,” said Mary Jane Marchisotto, executive director, FAI. “In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that food allergies affected 1 in 25 children; now it’s 1 in 13.  That translates into 2 children in every classroom.  It is especially disturbing to see how many of these children have multiple food allergies and have already experienced life-threatening reactions.  From previous research, we know that food-allergic reactions send an adult or child to the emergency room every three minutes—every six minutes for potentially fatal reactions.  Every day, we hear from families who are struggling with the emotional,  physical, and economic impact of food allergies.  That’s why FAI is committed to accelerating the pace of clinical trials that will lead to new therapies and, ultimately, a cure.”  

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About Food Allergies
Food allergies affect approximately 12 million Americans.  Eight foods are responsible for 90 percent of all reactions:  peanut, tree nut, milk, egg, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat.  Although food allergies appear to be on the rise in developed countries worldwide, researchers do not yet know the reason why.  One common theory is the hygiene hypothesis, which posits that excessive hygiene is responsible for the increase of allergies and other immune-mediated diseases.  The theory suggests that since we are no longer exposed to many bacteria, viruses and parasites, our immune system targets harmless substances, such as food proteins, instead.  There is no cure for food allergies, and no medication can prevent anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening reaction.  Strict avoidance of problem foods remains the only way to prevent a reaction.  

About FAI
The Food Allergy Initiative (FAI) was founded in 1998 by concerned parents and grandparents. FAI’s goal is to fund research that seeks a cure; to improve diagnosis and treatment; to increase federal funding of food allergy research and create safer environments through advocacy; and to raise awareness through education. The largest private source of funding for food allergy research in the United States, FAI has committed more than $75 million toward the fulfillment of its mission. FAI is headquartered in New York, with an office in the Chicago area and an active volunteer committee in the Northwest, and enjoys strong relationships with food allergy support groups and advocates throughout the country.  A national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, FAI is supported solely by donations from dedicated individuals, corporations, and foundations.

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