Updated prevalence of food allergy in the United States

Published Online: September 3, 2013

Food allergy is a common condition, and estimates of its prevalence vary worldwide and even within the United States. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) is a periodic survey designed to collect health information on a nationally representative sample of Americans.  Between 2007 and 2010, NHANES gathered information about allergies to specific foods, such as peanut, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, egg, and milk by questionnaire. In a recent article published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI), McGowan et al examined the prevalence of food allergies in NHANES, demographic and clinical characteristics of those affected by this condition, and the percentage of those who reported milk, fish, and shellfish allergy who actually avoided the food in their diet.

A total of 20,686 individuals were surveyed between 2007 and 2010. The overall prevalence of self-reported food allergy was 8.96% (CI 8.32 – 9.60%), corresponding to 6.53% in children (95% CI 5.69 – 7.37%) and 9.72% in adults (95% CI 8.94 – 10.5%).  “Other,” milk, peanut, and shellfish were the most common food allergies in both children and adults.  Among adults, those of female gender and higher household education level had a higher prevalence of self-reported food allergy, and Non-Hispanic black race/ethnicity was associated with food allergy in all ages. A large proportion (25-35%) of individuals who reported an allergy to milk, shellfish, and fish had recently consumed the food.         

This report is unique in that it contains information about specific food allergies from a population that is truly representative of the United States and reports on adults with food allergies, who have not been well studied. This article also highlights the need for more sophisticated methods, such as a validated food allergy questionnaire, to use for large-scale epidemiologic studies of food allergy.

The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI) is an official scientific journal of the AAAAI, and is the most-cited journal in the field of allergy and clinical immunology.

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