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Food allergies: a bigger problem for U.S. children

If your child has a food allergy, you know there could be hidden dangers in every meal or snack. A recent study shows one child out of every 13 children has a food allergy, and 40 percent of those are life threatening.

The study, featured in the medical journal Pediatrics, involved online interviews with parents of 40,104 children under age 18. Families were recruited for the study by the research firm Knowledge Networks through random telephone dialing. The study was funded by the Food Allergy Initiative, a nonprofit advocacy group founded by parents of children with allergies.

Overall, 8 percent of the children in the study had food allergies, with peanuts and milk being the most common. Statistically, that means nearly 6 million U.S. children have food allergies, averaging about two kids for each classroom in the country.

What is a food allergy?

Many people mistake food intolerance for a food allergy, but they are very different. If a child is intolerant to a substance, it may cause digestive problems, which can at times be severe. Gluten and lactose intolerance are common in children.

A true food allergy can cause skin rashes, wheezing, tightness in the throat or difficulty breathing. Allergies to some foods, including eggs and wheat, may become less severe over time, but allergies to peanuts and other nuts may become more severe. Children with severe food allergies may need a prescription of epinephrine in a lightweight "pen" shot, along with a medical alert bracelet.

The following foods account for 90 percent of all food allergies:

  • peanuts
  • tree nuts
  • milk
  • eggs
  • fish
  • shellfish
  • soy
  • wheat

What does this mean for parents?

The good news is that there are more parents out there with the same concerns. By teaming up, you can help guide schools and childcare facilities toward foods that aren't as likely to threaten your children's health.

June 2011