As reflected in a survey of the general population, more than 10% of healthcare workers may have a food allergy. The study authors found a higher rate of food allergies in women. Employee health professionals may want to take note of this finding in health assessments of nursing staff.1

“The present population-weighted data revealed that an estimated 10.8% of U.S. adults had at least one current food allergy during the study period,” the authors noted. “These data suggest that there are currently at least 13 million food-allergic adults who have experienced at least one severe food-allergic reaction, at least 10 million adults who have received food allergy treatment in the emergency department, and at least 12 million adults with adult-onset food allergy.”

Self-Reporting Is Not Convincing

Interestingly, 19% of respondents self-reported a food allergy, but many of these reports were found “unconvincing” in the study methodology.

“Self-reported food allergies were the main outcome and were considered convincing if reported symptoms to specific allergens were consistent with IgE-mediated reactions,” the authors noted. “Diagnosis history to specific allergens and food allergy-related healthcare use were also primary outcomes.”

Women Affected Most

The upshot is that there is a substantial population of people with suspected food allergy who need “appropriate confirmatory testing and counseling to ensure food is not unnecessarily avoided and quality of life is not unduly impaired.”

Women were more likely than men to develop a convincing food allergy, with 13.8% allergic compared to 7.5%, respectively. Compared with younger adults, those age 30 to 39 years had elevated rates of convincing food allergy. Generally, those age 60 years or older had lower allergy rates.

“Overall, approximately half of all food-allergic adults developed at least one adult-onset allergy, suggesting that adult-onset allergy is common in the United States among adults of all ages, to a wide variety of allergens, and among adults with and without additional, childhood-onset allergies,” the authors reported.

The most common allergies were to shellfish, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, and fin fish.

“Given that the most prevalent allergies observed were shellfish and peanut, which prior pediatric work suggests are infrequently outgrown, this finding suggests that the population-level burden of food allergy is likely to increase in the future,” they concluded.


  1. Gupta RS, Warren CM, Smith BM, et al. Prevalence and severity of food allergies among US adults. JAMA Netw Open 2019;2:e185630.