Well, a lot of us suspected it, but it looks like the number of U.S. children with a food allergy is bigger than previously thought. A study that will come out in December in the journal Pediatrics reports that 4% of U.S. children have a food allergy. That adds up to about 3.2 million U.S. kids. Peanut and tree nut allergies are one of the top food allergies in children.
Previous estimates stated that 1% of the U.S. population--in total--had a food allergy. Some food allergy opponents liked to quote this 1% as if it were proof that food allergies weren't very common and that people with them weren't very important--even though this added up to more than 12 million people. This number was also used to support arguments against peanut-free tables in schools, peanut-free airline flights and any other accommodations for people with this life-threatening allergy.
The bottom line is that it looks like a lot of children have food allergies. The study showed how it cuts across ethnic, economic and racial lines--eradicating the other argument of food allergy naysayers--that allergies to food are the inventions of bored, rich white yuppie parents. Also, food allergies don't just affect young kids. I just got a note from a woman whose 14-year-old child was just diagnosed. Plus, I hear from adults with this allergy all the time.
The important thing to remember is that the exact numbers are not the most significant point about this issue--it's more important to concentrate on the fact that many, many people are facing severe food allergies. And they don't just affect immediate family members--they also impact grandparents and other relatives, daycare workers, school teachers and other caregivers. So we should focus on figuring out why and putting a stop to it.
I hope that this study is the first of many that exposes food allergies for what they are--a growing, serious and important health threat that needs further study, broadened treatment options and ultimately, a cure.