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One In 13 Children Have Food Allergies, Study Says

Eight percent of American kids have food allergies. The constant fear of an allergic reaction can affect a child's stress level.


Photo: bookgrl (Flickr)

Peanuts and dairy products are two of the most common food allergens.

Increasing Problems For Kids

A greater number of children have food allergies than have been previously reported says a study recently published in Pediatrics.

According to the study of over 40,000 children, one in 13 suffer from a food allergy. This implies that 8 percent, or about 5.9 million children, under the age of 18 in the U.S. are allergic to at least one food, particularly peanuts, milk, or shellfish.

The study also finds that white middle class children who lived outside of the Midwest were most likely to have a confirmed diagnosis of a food allergy, although the ability to receive specialized healthcare (such as being unable to afford allergy tests) may affect this statistic.

Troubles With The Data

Dr. Ruchi Gupta, the study’s lead author, notes that because there isn’t a universally accepted definition for food allergy, it is difficult to precisely diagnose and collect data.

Allergies can be diagnosed through several different procedures including skin testing, blood testing, and food challenges, all of which may produce different results.

A study published by JAMA in 2010 also found that there are no conclusive evaluations of the effectiveness of  dietary restrictions, food reintroductions, and drug treatments. These discrepancies could account for the increased number of reported food allergies in children, or they may suggest that more children have food allergies than were previously diagnosed.

Additionally, there public confusion about the different between food allergies and food intolerance.

Regardless of the precise definition, food allergies can be lethal and affect millions of children. The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology says that 150-200 people die of lethal food allergy reactions every year.

Growing Into Independence

Teenagers have an especially high risk of dangerous food allergy reactions, but this may not be because allergies become worse over time. Dr. Clifford Bassett of the Allergy and Asthma Care of New York noted that social pressures can influence the way teenagers view their food allergy, including causing embarrassment about their specialized diet and their adrenaline injector.

As children grow into teens their eating habits become more independent. Teens tend to go out with their friends and have more social and school related activities without their parents, so the danger of eating a food that they are allergic to increases.

This increased risk is accompanied by an increased amount of fear and anxiety. A study published in Risk Analysis in 2010 found that many teenagers with food allergies feel unsafe at school. It goes on to say that the transition from the more child-centered lower grades to the more independent upper grades is one major factor that alters how teens perceive their food allergies.

How To Get Help

In the study, younger children said described their feelings about their food allergies as scared, annoyed, and unhappy. Their response strategies to dealing with a food allergy related situation would be to approach an adult.

On the other hand, teenagers said they would respond to food allergy related situations by managing their own risks, such as reading food labels and avoiding risky situations. They described their food allergies in life-or-death terms and felt stress, anxiety, and fear about their allergy.

The study concluded that developing constructive, positive, and effective safety and emergency response plans that are backed up by a support system and information help a teenager with a food allergy feel safer and less anxious.

Read More:

  • Study: Food Allergies Affect 1 in 13 Kids (NPR)
  • The Prevalence, Severity, and Distribution of Childhood Food Allergy in the United States (Pediatrics)
  • IIllustrating Risk: Anaphylaxis Through the Eyes of the Food-Allergic Child (Risk Analysis)
Julie Rooney

Julie Rooney is a vegetarian, musician, and artist who primarily works in video and new media. Currently she is the director of Low Road Gallery, a non-profit contemporary art gallery located in Greencastle, Indiana.

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