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Pediatric Food Allergies No Longer Discriminate; Cases Are Up

October 6th, 2016

CHICAGO – Forget your assumptions that food allergies primarily affect white children from middle-to-high income families.

A new study of Illinois emergency department visits for severe food allergy reactions found that children of all races and backgrounds now are affected, with cases jumping up an average of nearly 30% over a five year period. The report was published recently in Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

In fact, Northwestern University researchers and colleagues point out that Hispanic children, who previously had the lowest reported cases of food allergies, had the biggest increase of emergency room and hospitalizations overall, with a 44% annual rise.

The study included discharge data from 1,893 ED visits for anaphylaxis at about 200 Illinois hospitals from 2008 to 2012.

"This study shows that severe food allergies are beginning to impact children of all races and income," said lead author Ruchi Gupta, MD, a professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and an attending physician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. "This is no longer primarily a disease of children who are white and/or from middle-to-high income families. Nobody is immune to it."

In the past, studies indicated that children who were white or from higher-income families were most affected by food allergies, with Hispanic children and children from lower socioeconomic families having less of a problem, Gupta noted. He added that no one knows why food allergies have tended to vary by race, ethnicity and socioeconomic levels.

Overall, ED visits for anaphylaxis increased 29.1% – from 6.3 ED visits and hospital admissions per 100,000 children in 2008 to 17.2 ED department visits and hospital admissions in 2012. While visits were most frequent each year for Asian children, the annual percent increase in visits was greatest among Hispanic children.

At the same time, visits by African American children rose an average of 28.1% annually, with white children up 30.6%, according to the study. The most common allergies requiring emergency intervention were from tree nuts, peanuts and milk.

"Ensuring timely diagnosis by the physician and education about recognition and management of severe and potentially fatal reactions is critical," Gupta emphasized. "We need targeted education to all families and public entities including schools, camps and restaurants because anaphylaxis can happen anywhere and at any time."

An earlier study by Gupta found that food allergy is a growing public health concern in the United States and affects about 8% of children, with nearly 40% having a history of severe reactions that can lead to hospitalization or even death without immediate treatment.