Living with a food allergy can be quite difficult, but now a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics shows that it can be quite costly - for both families and the US as a whole - totaling nearly $25 billion annually.
The study, led by Dr. Ruchi Gupta of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, analyzed 1,643 caregivers of children with food allergies from November 2011 to January 2012 to estimate medical, out-of-pocket and lost work productivity costs involved.
According to the authors, food allergies bring about substantial medical costs to the health care system, but individual families also need to spend quite a bit in order to adhere to special diets with foods that are allergy friendly.
The researchers found that overall annual costs related to children's food allergies were $24.8 billion, which amounts to $4,184 per child.
Food allergies in children - most commonly to milk, eggs and peanuts - cost an average of $4,184 per child in the US.
The total costs broke down into $4.3 billion in direct medical costs and $20.5 billion in costs to families, showing that families largely carry the burden of costs for children's allergies.
For direct medical costs, hospitalizations took up the largest cost, at $1.9 billion. This was followed by outpatient visits to allergists, emergency department visits and pediatrician visits.
The special diets and allergy friendly foods cost an estimated $1.7 billion each year, and yearly lost labor productivity - occurring when caregivers accompany children to medical visits - totaled $773 million.
Prevalence and impact of food allergies
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, around 1 in 20 kids has a food allergy, which is more common than in adults.
The organization notes that while most children will outgrow allergies to milk, egg, soy and wheat, allergies to most nuts - and peanuts - are usually lifelong. Additionally, a food allergy can often present itself with other diseases, such as asthma and eczema.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI) notes that if both parents have allergies, the child has a 75% chance of inheriting the allergy. However, if only one parent has an allergy, the child's chances decrease to between 30-40%.
An allergic reaction to foods happens when the immune system attacks a specific food by mistake, says the ACAAI, a "battle" that causes the blood vessels to swell, smooth muscles to contract, and skin areas to turn red and itchy.
Food allergies to peanuts were the most common allergy from the study, accounting for 28.7%, while milk (22.3%) and shellfish (18.6%) followed.
The authors conclude their study by writing:
Medical News Today recently reported that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed the number of US children with skin and food allergies has risen significantly in the last few years.
"In summary, childhood food allergy in the United States places a considerable economic burden on families and society. Given these findings, research to develop an effective food allergy treatment and cure is critically needed."