Prevalence of food allergies

The Food Allergy Research & Resource Program (FARRP) currently estimates the prevalence of IgE-mediated food allergies in the United States at 3.5 - 4.0% of the overall population.

This estimate is based primarily upon published telephone surveys conducted by the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) and the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York. These telephone surveys were random digit-dial telephone surveys. For certain types of food allergies including immediate hypersensitivity reactions associated with noteworthy symptomology, these telephone surveys are arguably reasonably accurate. In the first of these surveys conducted in 1999, the prevalence of peanut allergy was estimated at 0.6% while the prevalence of tree nut allergies was estimated at 0 .5% (1) . Several years later, a similar survey on the prevalence of seafood allergies led to estimates of 1.9% with shrimp (crustacean shellfish) allergy and 0.4% with fish allergy (2). Thus, peanuts and tree nut allergy together account for over 1% of food allergies while shrimp and fish allergy account for another 2.3% of food allergies. Since other food allergies are reasonably common especially in infants and young children (milk, eggs, soybeans, wheat), the overall estimate of 3.5 - 4.0% seems reasonable.

IgE-mediated food allergies are more common among infants and young children than among adults; the prevalence in children under the age of 3 is in the range of 5-8%. The prevalence estimates among infants and young children are actually based upon more solid clinical evidence as opposed to the telephone surveys described above. However, many clinical studies actually only evaluate the comparative prevalence of various food allergies among groups of allergic patients evaluated at allergy clinics. Fewer studies have attempted to determine the prevalence of specific food allergies among the general population. The prevalence of adverse reactions to foods as confirmed by double-blind, placebo-controlled food challenge (DBPCFC) during the first 3 years of life among 480 consecutively born infants in a community in Colorado was 8% (3). Of these children, 25 (5.2%) were suspected to be allergic to cow's milk, but DBPCFC confirmed a sensitivity to cow's milk in only 11 (2.3%) of these infants (3). In a prospective study of 1749 newborns born in a single hospital in Denmark during 1985, 39 (2.2%) were found to have adverse reactions to cow's milk (4). Similarly, Jakobsson and Lindberg (5) followed a cohort of 1079 Swedish newborns and found that 1.9% developed a sensitivity to cow'smilk. A prevalence rate of 2.8% was observed in challenge studies conducted on a group of Dutch infants (6). The overall prevalence of food allergies among a birth cohort in Australia was estimated at about 8.5%, although some of these young children likely had multiple food allergies (7). The prevalence of specific food allergies was 3.2% for egg, 2.0% for milk, 1.9% for peanut, and 0.42% for sesame seed (7). Thus, the estimated prevalence of milk allergy among children under the age of 3 years has been confirmed to be about 2% in the U.S., Denmark, Sweden, and Australia.

Key Publications on Prevalence of Food Allergy

  1. Sicherer SH, Munoz-Furlong A, Burks AW, et al. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 1999; 103:559-62.
  2. Sicherer SH, Munoz-Furlong A, Sampson HA. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 2004; 114:159-165.
  3. Bock SA. Pediatrics 1987; 79:683-8.
  4. Host A, Halken S. Allergy 1990; 45:587-96.
  5. Jakobbson I, Lindberg T. Acta Pediatrica Scandanavia 1979; 68:853-9.
  6. Schrander JJP, van den Bogart JPH, Forget PP, et al. European Journal of Pediatrics 1993; 152:640-4.
  7. Hill DJ, Hosking CS, Zhie CY, et al. Environmental Toxicology and Pathology 1997; 4:101-10.