Latest food allergy research

October 30, 2017

Two research studies highlighted at the Annual Meeting unveiled important new information for allergists. Both studies stemmed from a national survey conducted by Ruchi Gupta, MD, ACAAI member.

The first study suggests that peanut allergy in children has increased 21 percent since 2010, and that nearly 2.5 percent of U.S. children may have an allergy to peanuts.

More than 53,000 U.S. households were surveyed between October 2015 and September 2016 for the study. The research suggests that rates of peanut, tree nut, shellfish, fin fish, and sesame allergies are increasing. Allergy to tree nuts, for example, increased 18 percent in children from 2010 when data were last collected, and allergy to shellfish increased 7 percent. Also evident was an increase in occurrence in black children compared to white children. 

“According to our data, the risk of peanut allergy was nearly double among black children relative to white children,” says Dr. Gupta. “Black children were also significantly more likely to have a tree nut allergy relative to white children.  These findings are consistent with previous work by our group suggesting that black children in the U.S. may be at elevated food allergy risk.”

Additional findings of the research included:

  • Peanut remains the most common childhood food allergy. Estimated prevalence of the following allergies was:
    • Peanut: 2.42 percent
    • Shellfish: 1.41 percent
    • Tree Nut: 1.18 percent
    • Fin Fish: .52 percent
    • Sesame: .17 percent
  • More than 55 percent of kids with peanut, tree nut, shellfish or fin fish allergy reported at least one severe allergic reaction.

The second study found that almost half of all food-allergic adults surveyed reported one or more adult-onset food allergies. “We saw that, as with children, the incidence of food allergies in adults is rising across all ethnic groups, says Dr. Gupta.”

The most common food allergy among adults is shellfish, affecting an estimated 3.6 percent of U.S. adults. This marks a 44 percent increase from the 2.5 percent prevalence rate published in an influential 2004 study. Similarly, these new data suggest that adult tree nut allergy prevalence has risen to 1.8 percent from a 2008 estimate of .5 percent, an increase of 260 percent. 

Estimated prevalence of specific food allergies among US adults were:

  • Shellfish: 3.69 percent
  • Peanut: 2.66 percent
  • Tree Nut: 1.80 percent
  • Fin Fish: 1.11 percent
  • Sesame: .30 percent

The research found that, among black, Asian and Hispanic adults, the risk of developing a food allergy to certain foods is higher than for whites, specifically for shellfish and peanuts. Asian adults were 2.1 times more likely to report a shellfish allergy than white adults, and Hispanic adults reported a peanut allergy at 2.3 times the frequency of white adults.

“We’re very excited to share the findings of our research,” says Dr. Gupta. “This study allows both the public and physicians to better understand the extent of food allergy and its impact on children and adults. We found that of kids and adults with food allergies, over half had experienced at least one severe, life-threatening reaction. The more we understand about the types of food allergy,  reaction severity, the onset and development of tolerance, the better able we are to address them.”