Prevalence of Food Allergies Among Adults in the United States

Food allergy (FA) has been found to be a serious, costly, and potentially life-threatening condition that can substantially impair quality of life. However, while numerous studies have aimed to characterize FA burden on pediatric populations in the United States, adult FA prevalence studies have been uncommon and methodologically limited. Therefore, study authors sought to characterize the prevalence and demographic determinants of food allergy within a large, nationally representative sample of U.S. adults.

Between October 2015 and September 2016, members of 53,575 U.S. households completed surveys based on a previous landmark childhood prevalence survey. Eligible participants included English- or Spanish-speaking adults who resided in the United States, were ≥18 years of age, and recruited from nationally representative housing units. Responses were adjusted for sampling design and non-response by base and post-stratification weighting.

Overall, self-report survey data was collected from 40,447 adults. The results demonstrated shellfish was the most commonly reported allergy (3.9%), followed by peanut (2.4%), tree nut (1.9%), and fin fish (1.1%). The tree nut allergies included walnut (1.1%), almond (1.0%), hazelnut (1.0%), pecan (0.8%), and cashew (0.8%). More than half (51.17%) of the adults with a reported FA developed at least one allergy after age 18.

Based on this data, the study authors concluded that shellfish allergy is common among U.S. adults, and nut allergies in adults are comparable to similar allergies among children. Approximately half of all food-allergic adults surveyed reported at least one adult-onset food allergy.