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Food Allergy Facts and Statistics

A look at the causes, concerns, and impacts of food allergies among children and adults in the U.S.

Last Updated: Jul 20, 2022
Food allergy facts and stats

Jump to:

What is a food allergy?
What are the most common food allergens?
How many people have food allergies?
Are food allergies becoming more common?
What are the economic impacts of food allergy reactions?
The importance of immediate treatment
Food allergy impacts on quality of life
Who is at the greatest risk for food allergies?
Can you outgrow food allergies?
Is there a cure?
References

What is a food allergy?

A food allergy is a medical condition in which certain foods trigger an individual’s adverse and reproducible allergic response. This allergic reaction occurs because the immune system attacks food proteins that are generally harmless in other individuals.¹

Anaphylaxis is an acute, potentially deadly allergic reaction that causes the body to go into shock. Anaphylaxis caused by food allergies is fatal if not immediately treated by epinephrine injection.

Allergic reactions to foods can include:²

  • Face, tongue, or lip swelling
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Hives
  • Flushed skin or rash
  • Tingling or itchy sensation in the mouth
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Swelling of the throat and vocal cords
  • Loss of consciousness

Severe allergic reactions can cause:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Troubled breathing
  • Asthma attacks
  • Death

There is no cure for food allergies, but you can manage them with treatment and strict avoidance of allergenic foods.³

What are the most common food allergens?

Although over 170 foods are reported to cause reactions in the U.S., lawmakers identified eight foods as major food allergens in the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. They include:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Crustacean shellfish
  • Tree nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Wheat
  • Soybeans

In 2021, Congress passed the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research (FASTER) Act, which added sesame as a ninth major food allergen recognized in the U.S.²

The most common allergens for children, in order of prevalence, are:

  1. Milk

  2. Egg

  3. Peanut

The most common allergens among adults include:³

  1. Shellfish

  2. Peanut

  3. Tree nut

How many people have food allergies?

A total of about 32 million people in the U.S. have food allergies, including:

  • 26 million adults (10.8%)
  • 5.6 million children (7.6%)

A report from 2018 showed that 4.8 million children under age 18 had food allergies over the past year, with nearly equal rates among white, Black, and Hispanic children.³

Among food-allergic adults, 45.3% are allergic to multiple foods, and 51.1% experienced a severe allergic reaction in the past year. Among children with food allergies, approximately 40% are allergic to more than one food.⁴

Are food allergies becoming more common?

The prevalence of childhood food allergies has steadily increased at a rate of 2.1% per decade among Blacks, 1.2% among Hispanics, and 1% among whites.⁴

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the prevalence of food allergies among children rose by 50% between 1997 and 2011. Peanut and tree nut allergies among U.S. children more than tripled between 1997 and 2008.⁴

What are the economic impacts of food allergy reactions?

Each year, 200,000 Americans require emergency medical care for allergic reactions to food, with medical procedures to treat anaphylaxis increasing by 380% between 2007 and 2016. Childhood hospitalizations for food allergy reactions tripled between the late 1990s and the mid-2000s.⁴

The overall economic cost of food allergies was estimated to be $24.8 billion annually in 2013, with direct medical costs accounting for $4.3 billion yearly.⁵

The importance of immediate treatment

When an allergy sufferer enters anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction), they must immediately receive an epinephrine injection (adrenaline) to prevent a fatality. More than one dose may be necessary.

Self-injectable epinephrine devices are available by prescription for food allergy sufferers and potentially save thousands of lives yearly.

Food allergy impacts on quality of life

Individuals with food allergies can endure significant life activity limitations and may qualify for protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Costs borne by the family due to food allergies totaled $20.5 billion in 2013 and included:⁵

  • Lost labor productivity
  • Out-of-pocket costs
  • Opportunity costs

Approximately one in three children with food allergies report being bullied due to their condition.⁴ Children with food allergies also often experience social isolation, with 15% of families avoiding restaurants and 10% homeschooling their children for fear of allergen exposure.⁵

Who is at the greatest risk for food allergies?

The following considerations demonstrate who is at the most significant risk for developing food allergies.⁴

Race

Food allergies have increased among U.S. children during the past two decades, with the most significant increase among Black children. Today, Black children are at a greater risk of developing food allergies than non-Hispanic white children.

Other health conditions

Children with food allergies are two to four times more likely to have other conditions like eczema or asthma than their non-allergic peers. Food allergies are also associated with eosinophilic gastrointestinal diseases.

Location

Children in rural communities are less likely to develop food allergies than those in urban locations. Among urban children with a family history of hay fever, eczema, or asthma, 10% are allergic to milk, eggs, or peanuts.

Financial background

Children in households earning more than $50,000 per year are more likely to have a food allergy diagnosis than those whose families earn less than $50,000 per year.

Age

Most food allergies develop in childhood, but at least 15% of patients are diagnosed in adulthood. Over 25% of adults with food allergies report a diagnosis during adulthood.

Anaphylaxis

Teenagers and young adults are the most at-risk for fatal food-induced anaphylaxis.Anaphylaxis is also more common among food allergy sufferers who also have asthma.⁵

Can you outgrow food allergies?

Allergies to milk, eggs, wheat, and soy often resolve in childhood, while allergies to tree nuts, peanuts, and shellfish are typically lifelong.⁵

Is there a cure?

While therapies are under study, there is no cure for food allergies. This condition must be managed by avoidance of problem foods and by recognizing symptoms.

Those who are allergic and their caretakers and school supervisors should have access to epinephrine for immediate treatment in case of severe allergic reactions.

References

[1] CDC Healthy Schools: Food Allergies. (2022, February 24). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved on July 16, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/foodallergies/index.htm.

[2] U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2022, June 23). Food Allergies. Retrieved on July 17, 2022, from https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/food-allergies.

[3] Grayson, M. Allergy Facts and Figures. (2022, April). Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Retrieved on July 17, 2022, from https://www.aafa.org/allergy-facts/.

[4] Gupta, R., Warren, C., et al. Prevalence and severity of food allergies among U.S. adults. (2019, January 4). JAMA Network Open. Retrieved on July 17, 2022, from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2720064.

[5] Gupta, R., Holdford, D., et al. The economic impact of childhood food allergy in the United States. (2013, November). JAMA Pediatrics. Retrieved on July 17, 2022, from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/1738764#.