One child per each dozen in the United States has a food allergy according to a new study released this week. The authors of this study hope to build awareness of this prevalent condition and in turn overall improve the quality of life for children and caretakers.

Dr. Ruchi Gupta, from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago said:

“What I hope this paper will do is open this awareness to how common (food allergy) is and how severe it can be, and develop policies for schools and sporting events and any activities that kids participate in to make it clear that everybody is looking out for these kids.”

The study’s authors surveyed a nationally representative sample of almost 40,000 U.S. adults who lived with a child under 18. Previous studies have estimated that anywhere between 2 and 8 of every 100 kids in the U.S. has a food allergy.

Gupta continues:

“One of our big findings was that 2 in 5 kids who had allergies had a severe reaction or a life-threatening reaction. There are a lot of misconceptions of what allergies are. When you think of allergies, you don’t think of life-threatening.”

Eight percent of kids had a diagnosed food allergy or convincing symptoms that indicated an allergy, or almost 6 million U.S. youths. Kids were most commonly allergic to peanuts, milk, and shellfish.

Severe reactions were more common in older kids, possibly because young kids with allergies are more likely to be monitored by parents to make sure they stay away from potential allergy triggers, Gupta explained.

She and her colleagues also found that black and Asian kids had higher chances of having a food allergy than white kids, but that they were less likely to have that allergy diagnosed by a doctor.

Dr. Scott Sicherer, an allergy researcher at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York commented to that point:

“Is that because they’re not getting the health care they need? Is that because there’s not an appropriate amount of concern? I would be worried that the next reaction could be severe and they’re not prepared for it.”

One of the most common food allergies is a sensitivity to peanuts, a member of the bean family. Peanut allergies may be severe, but children with peanut allergies sometimes outgrow them. Tree nuts, including pecans, pistachios, pine nuts, and walnuts, are also common allergens. Sufferers may be sensitive to one, or many, tree nuts. Also seeds, including sesame seeds and poppy seeds, contain oils where protein is present, which may elicit an allergic reaction.

Egg allergies affect about one in fifty children but are frequently outgrown by children when they reach age five. Typically the sensitivity is to proteins in the white, rather than the yolk.

Milk, from cows, goats or sheep, is another common allergy causing food, and many sufferers are also unable to tolerate dairy products such as cheese. A very small portion of children with a milk allergy, roughly ten percent, will have a reaction to beef. Beef contains a small amount of protein that is present in cow’s milk.

Other foods containing allergenic proteins include soy, wheat, fish, shellfish, fruits, vegetables, spices, synthetic and natural colors, and chemical additives.

Sources: Pediatrics and The United States Department of Agriculture

Written by Sy Kraft