Study: Prevalence of Food Allergies Among Adults

Nearly one-fifth of adults in the United States believe they have a food allergy, and more than 26 million are food allergic, according to a new cross-sectional survey study.

The researchers contacted U.S. adults by phone or internet between Oct. 9, 2015, and Sept. 18, 2016. Primary outcomes included self-reported food allergies, diagnosis history to specific allergens, and food allergy-related health care use. Credibility of self-reported food allergies was determined based on how allergen-specific symptoms correlated with immunoglobulin E (IgE)-mediated reactions. Researchers found participants from NORC at the University of Chicago’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel and the non–probability-based Survey Sampling International (SSI) panel.

A total of 40,443 adults (mean age 46.6 years) completed the survey, including just over half (51.2%) of the AmeriSpeak panelists (n = 7,210) and 5.5% of the SSI panelists (n = 33,233). Among the total participants, more than a fifth (10.8%; 95% CI, 10.4%-11.1%) had a convincing food allergy, while nearly two-fifths (19%; 95% CI, 18.5%-19.5%) had a self-reported food allergy. The most frequently reported allergies were shellfish (2.9%; 95% CI, 2.7%-3.1%), milk (1.9%; 95% CI, 1.8%-2.1%), peanut (1.8%; 95% CI, 1.7%-1.9%), tree nut (1.2%; 95% CI, 1.1%-1.3%), and fin fish (0.9%; 95% CI, 0.8%-1.0%). More than half (51.1%; 95% CI, 49.3%-52.9%) of food-allergic adults experienced a severe food allergy reaction, just under half (48%; 95% CI, 46.2%-49.7%) developed their allergies during adulthood, and 45.3% (95% CI, 43.6%-47.1%) had several allergies. About a quarter (24%; 95% CI, 22.6%-25.4%) of participants had a current epinephrine prescription; 38.3% (95% CI, 36.7%-40.0%) had been to the emergency department at least once due to a food allergy.

“Overall, approximately half of all food-allergic adults developed at least 1 adult-onset allergy, suggesting that adult-onset allergy is common in the United States among adults of all ages, to a wide variety of allergens, and among adults with and without additional, childhood-onset allergies,” the researchers concluded.

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Source: JAMA