Staple food allergies among children and adolescents raise household costs

Published Online January, 2015

Food allergy—a common problem, affecting about 8% of children and adolescents—greatly impacts the daily life of those affected and particularly impairs quality of life. Direct and indirect societal costs relating to pediatric food allergy in the United States have been estimated at nearly 25 billion USD. In Europe, these costs have not yet been estimated, however, cow’s milk, eggs, and wheat are staple foods in many diets, making them difficult, and likely costly to avoid.  

In a recent publication in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, Protudjer and colleagues investigated the costs of allergy to staple foods including cow’s milk, eggs and/or wheat for Swedish households. Also analyzed were the types of costs affected, and whether there are any particular aspects of the allergy that influence the cost. 

The authors recruited 84 food allergic children (0-12 years) and 60 adolescents (13-17 years) from an allergy outpatient clinic. A group of children and adolescents of the same age and sex who did not have staple food allergies were also invited to participate (94 children and 56 adolescents). Parents of participating children and adolescents completed a questionnaire about their household costs. This questionnaire was previously developed and validated by the European Union-funded project EuroPrevall, and was translated into Swedish. The questionnaire captured total household costs related to the food allergy, including direct costs (e.g. food and living, health care insurance, medications, travel to doctor’s appointments) and indirect costs (e.g. lost time for being unable to perform domestic tasks, seeking food allergy-related information, shopping and preparing food, as well as lost earnings and lost days at school/work).

The mean annual total household costs (direct + indirect costs) were higher in families with a food-allergic child (by €3,961, or about $5,050 USD) or adolescent (by €4,792, or about $6,100 USD), compared to those without staple food allergy.  For households with children with staple food allergy, the total higher costs were due to both direct costs (including the cost of food and equipment for preparing food, the cost of medications, and costs related to health care visits) and indirect costs (in particular lost time due to health care visits and time spent seeking information on food allergy, as well as lost working or school days).  

In summary, the increased costs associated with cow’s milk, egg and/or wheat allergy amount to approximately €4,000 (about $5,000 USD) in households with children and €4800 (about $6,100 USD) in households with adolescents, per year, in Sweden. This is the first time such costs have been calculated in Sweden, and is one of the first studies in the world in this area.

The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice is an official journal of the AAAAI, focusing on practical information for the practicing clinician.

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