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Food allergies rife among US children

20th June 2011

An online survey has found that as many as one in 12 children in the United States could be suffering from a food allergy.

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More than one third of those children had severe allergies, and ethnic minority children are more likely to have them.

Study lead author Ruchi Gupta of Chicago's Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine said she hoped the study would raise awareness of how common a problem food allergies were.

Writing in the journal Pediatrics, Gupta called for policies to be put in place in schools and at sporting events to make sure affected children got the care they needed.

According to previous studies, between two and eight US children out of every 100 suffered from food allergies.

Previous data has been gleaned from broader health studies that only asked a small number of questions about food allergies amid a large number of other health questions.

Allergic reactions have also been studied in the contexts of visits to emergency services or doctors' evaluations in patient medical records.

The survey was carried out among a sample of nearly 40,000 American adults living with a child under 18, and was representative of the population as a whole.

An online questionnaire elicited responses about a single child in the household, any food allergy symptoms, medical consulations and diagnoses.

They were also asked about whether the child living with them had ever suffered a severe allergic reaction to food.

The survey, possibly the largest of its kind, identified nearly six million US children who had either a diagnosed food allergy or who showed some symptoms of one.

The substances most likely to cause allergic reactions in children were peanuts, milk and shellfish.

Two out of five children who had allergies had experienced a severe or life-threatening reaction like having their airways blocked by swelling or rapidly falling blood pressure.

Gupta said there were still plenty of misconceptions about just how dangerous allergies could be.

Older children seemed most likely to have experienced severe reactions, possibly because they were less likely to be constantly monitored by parents.

Black and Asian children were also more likely to have food allergies than white children but also less likely to have a diagnosis, the study showed.

Mount Sinai School of Medicine allergy researcher Scott Sicherer said that disparity should be addressed.


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