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Food Allergies Up 18% Among U.S. Children

WEDNESDAY Oct. 22, 2008 -- The number of American kids with food allergies has soared 18 percent in the last decade, with an estimated 4 percent of children and teens now affected with the condition, a new federal report says.

In 2007, approximately 3 million children under the age of 18 were reported to have had a food or digestive allergy in the previous 12 months, compared to slightly more than 2.3 million children (3.3 percent) in 1997, according to the report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Eight types of foods account for 90 percent of all food allergies -- milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat. Allergic reactions to these foods can range from a tingling sensation around the mouth and lips, to hives and even death, depending on the severity of the reaction, the report's authors said.

The report also said that children with food allergies are two to four times more likely to have asthma or other allergies, compared to children without food allergies.

It's not really known how a person develops a food allergy. They are more common in children than adults, and the majority of children with food allergies will "outgrow" them as they get older. But for some, a food allergy can become a lifelong concern, the report said.

Other highlights in the report:

  • Rates of food allergy were similar for boys and girls -- 3.8 percent for boys and 4.1 percent for girls.
  • Approximately 4.7 percent of children younger than 5 years of age had a reported food allergy, compared to 3.7 percent of children and teens aged 5 to 17 years.
  • Hispanic children had lower rates of reported food allergy (3.1 percent) than non-Hispanic white (4.1 percent) or non-Hispanic black children (4 percent.)
  • In 2007, 29 percent of children with food allergies also had reported asthma, compared to 12 percent of children without food allergy. And an estimated 27 percent of children with food allergies had reported eczema or skin allergy, compared to 8 percent of children without food allergies.
  • Slightly more than 30 percent of children with a food allergy also had reported respiratory allergy, compared with 9 percent of children with no food allergy.
  • From 2004 to 2006, there were approximately 9,537 hospital discharges annually for children from birth to 17 years of age who were diagnosed with a food allergy. Hospital discharges with a diagnosed food allergy increased significantly from the period 1998-2000 to 2004-2006. This finding could owe to increased awareness, reporting, and use of specific medical diagnostic codes for food allergies. Or it could represent a real increase in children who are experiencing food-allergic reactions.

The findings in the report, titled Food Allergy Among U.S. Children: Trends in Prevalence and Hospitalizations, were derived from statistics from the National Health Interview Survey and the National Hospital Discharge Survey, both conducted by CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

More information

To read the full report, visit the CDC.

Posted: October 2008


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