A nationally representative population study led by a team at Northwestern University confirms the high prevalence of peanut and milk allergy among children, and also documents the rise of shellfish allergy in kids, particularly to shrimp.
The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, estimates that 7.6 percent of American children have food allergies. Data collected from parents on 38,408 children found peanut to be the most common allergy (2.2 percent), while 1.9 percent of children have dairy allergy and 1.3 percent of children had a shellfish allergy.
Within the population of allergic children, cow’s milk allergy showed a substantially higher rate in the segment of babies and toddlers, when compared to previous studies. Among children under the age of 2, over 40 percent of children with allergies had a milk allergy.
As for why milk allergy is so prevalent among younger children, Christopher Warren, PhD, and one of the authors on this study, said, “One factor that plays a role is the near-universal exposure of infants and young children to cow’s milk in the United States – so if a child is allergic, most parents will know pretty early in the child’s life.”
He told Allergic Living that, if you contrast this with “less frequently encountered allergens like shellfish, you can see how an allergic child may only realize they have an allergy to less common foods later in childhood when they encounter them for the first time.”
Previous studies suggest that delaying introduction of allergenic foods may increase a child’s risk of developing a food allergy, noted Warren. “While our study didn’t directly address this, parents shouldn’t be afraid to introduce shellfish into their child’s diet beginning as early as four to six months once a few typical complementary foods have been fed to the child and tolerated.”
However, if a child appears to have reaction to a dish with shellfish in it, “parents should definitely tell their child’s pediatrician and consider testing,” he said.
Prevalence of Top Allergens in Children
- Food allergies in children overall – 5.6 million or 7.6 % of the population
- Peanut – 1.6 million or 2.2 %
- Milk – 1.4 million or 1.9 %
- Shellfish – 1 million or 1.3 %
- Tree nut – 900,000 or 1.2 %
- Egg – 600,000 or 0.9 %
- Fish – 400,000 or 0.6 %
- Wheat – 400,000 or 0.5 %
- Soy – 400,000 or 0.5 %
About 150,000 – or 0.2 percent – of children had a sesame allergy, ranking ninth in prevalence. (In October 2018, the FDA started the process to weigh making the tiny seed a top allergen.)
The research team, led by Dr. Ruchi Gupta at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, collected data from the large sample of parents of children with food allergies. The parents were asked about their child’s allergic symptoms so the study authors could filter out the kids lacking a convincing history of IgE-mediated food allergy.
Of concern to the researchers is the high rate of allergic reactions in children requiring visits to the emergency room.
“The parents of one in five kids with food allergy reported visiting the emergency department at least once in the past 12 months for a food-allergic reaction,” said Warren. Another troublesome statistic is that only 41 percent of respondents had a current epinephrine auto-injector prescription for their child.
Gupta and her team also found that African-American children were more likely to have food allergies than children of other ethnicities. More research is underway “in order to systematically explore these disparities,” said Warren.
The study was presented at the annual American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.
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