Monday, July 20, 2009

How many people have food allergies?

This is a question I'm curious about. The statistics that I often see cited are:

6% of American children have a food allergy;
4% of the general American population has a food allergy; and
The incidence of peanut allergy alone doubled in the five year time span between 1997 and 2002.
(Note, there are also many sources pointing out that the increase in peanut allergy does appear to be a "real" increase, not just an increase in diagnosis.)

Recently I had a conversation with my friend Susan about these numbers. I have no scientific basis for this belief, but we both thought based on our own experiences that the above numbers (well, at least the first two percentages I mentioned) might be a bit outdated. Anecdotally, I can think of lots of friends, or friends or friends, etc., whose kids have a food allergy. Seems like more than 6% to me.

Some possible explanations for this:
1) My own heightened awareness of food allergies is causing me to hear about these stories more?
2) There's something weird going on in my demographic health-wise that is causing our kids to have food allergies at a higher rate than the general population of American kids?
3) The 4% and 6% numbers are outdated and may really be higher?

Off the top of my head, here are the people I can think of in my own small circle of friends whose kids have at least one food allergy:
--Coworker/friend S.: daughter allergic to sesame, peanuts and tree nuts
--Coworker/friend G.: son suspected allergic to milk (he's quite young; not yet confirmed by testing)
--Joe's coworker J.: daughter has food allergies to nuts and maybe something else? (I'm not sure - I don't know her so well)
--Friend J.: son allergic to peanuts
--Joe's friend from high school A.: daughter allergic to peanuts and tree nuts
--Friend C.: son allergic to peanuts
--Cousin B.: son allergic to eggs and peanuts

I might have some of the specific foods wrong, but you get the idea. I don't think my mom could've named that many parents of food allergic children 33+ years ago when I was born, so something is up, for sure.

As an aside, each of the children noted above is a firstborn, and all of them are currently under the age of 4. So, it will be interesting to see whether they grow out of these allergies and whether any of their siblings have allergies.

EDITED TO ADD: Grrr. Typing this list and then looking at it made me think, how come Georgia has so many different allergies?! Most of these kids have 1 or 2, but we're currently sitting on 6. Ugh. It's not good when you're actually kind of jealous not just of the people without allergies, but the people with fewer allergies. I know she's not the only one in the multiple-allergy-sufferer boat, but I do hope her list gets shorter over time.

1 comment:

jessica said...

I agree with you and Susan that the numbers are off. Working for a program that serves over 4000 school age kids and knowing about some of their allergies; how we can't serve any snacks including peanuts; and how practically every afterschool site we have stores epi-pens for a number of kids; the numbers just seem off.

Also add me to the list of people who is highly allergic to Brazil nuts; has a Brazilian mother, and a brother who is not allergic.