Nav: Home

Study offers hard data on food allergies

May 31, 2017

Anecdotal evidence of food allergies abounds, but just how common are these allergies and intolerances? In a new study, investigators from Brigham and Women's Hospital combed through medical records from more than 2.7 million patients, identifying more than 97,000 with one or more documented food allergy or intolerance. Their findings are published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

"Recent reports suggest that food allergies are on the rise, with more food-allergy related hospitalizations in the U.S. over the last decade. However, many studies have been based on telephone surveys or have focused on a specific food allergen or allergen group," said Li Zhou, MD, PhD, of the Division of General Medicine Primary Care at BWH. "We recognized that the electronic health record system could offer a treasure trove of information about allergies to better understand which populations may be most affected and just how common food allergies and intolerances are in the U.S."

Some of the team's findings include:
  • Food allergy or intolerance were documented for 3.6 percent of the population studied

  • Shellfish was the most commonly reported food allergy

  • The highest rates of food allergies or intolerance were among females and Asians

The multidisciplinary team, including a medical student, Warren Acker; an allergist, Kimberly Blumenthal, MD, MSc; patient safety experts and informaticians, used food and allergy intolerance data collected at Partners HealthCare between 2000 and 2013, including information from multiple community and specialty hospitals as well as community health centers. The team examined data on culprit foods, reaction(s) to that allergen, date/time of the reaction and more. The research team used the term "food allergies and intolerances" to include any adverse reaction to food (such as hives, anaphylaxis, shortness of breath, wheezing, itching, swelling and more) as well as pseudoallergic reactions, intolerances and even food preferences reported in the health record.

The team looked at a variety of food allergens, finding that almost 13,000 patients had a reported allergy or intolerance to peanut, including more than 7,000 (56.5 percent) who had hives, anaphylaxis, or other potentially IgE-mediated reactions. To better understand the validity of the food allergy data they examined, they looked at specific antibodies produced in response to peanut via the radioallergosorbent test (RAST) or ImmunoCAP test for all patients who reported a peanut allergy.

The overall rate of allergy prevalence that the team found -- 3.6 percent -- is consistent with previous estimates using oral food challenges.

The team also notes that food allergies are quite common but there are fewer than 7,000 allergists/immunologists in the United States; these data suggest the U.S. doesn't have the capacity to evaluate/confirm allergies for all patients who initially test positive (only 1 in 5 patients with a peanut allergy received follow up allergy testing). Food allergies are estimated to cost the U.S. $25 billion annually.
-end-
This study was supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (grant no. R01HS022728).

Paper cited: Acker WW et al. "Prevalence of food allergies and intolerances documented in electronic health records" Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology DOI: 10.1016/j.jaci.2017.04.006

Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) is a 793-bed nonprofit teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School and a founding member of Partners HealthCare. BWH has more than 4.2 million annual patient visits and nearly 46,000 inpatient stays, is the largest birthing center in Massachusetts and employs nearly 16,000 people. The Brigham's medical preeminence dates back to 1832, and today that rich history in clinical care is coupled with its national leadership in patient care, quality improvement and patient safety initiatives, and its dedication to research, innovation, community engagement and educating and training the next generation of health care professionals. Through investigation and discovery conducted at its Brigham Research Institute (BRI), BWH is an international leader in basic, clinical and translational research on human diseases, more than 3,000 researchers, including physician-investigators and renowned biomedical scientists and faculty supported by nearly $666 million in funding. For the last 25 years, BWH ranked second in research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) among independent hospitals. BWH is also home to major landmark epidemiologic population studies, including the Nurses' and Physicians' Health Studies and the Women's Health Initiative as well as the TIMI Study Group, one of the premier cardiovascular clinical trials groups. For more information, resources and to follow us on social media, please visit BWH's online newsroom.

Brigham and Women's Hospital

Related Allergies Articles:

Got seasonal allergies? Beetles could help
Allergies caused by the common ragweed, Ambrosia artemisiifolia, impact millions, and in Europe alone, around 13.5 million people suffer with symptoms, resulting in 7.4 billion Euros worth of health costs per year, according to the research.
Drinking green tea may help with food allergies
Drinking green tea increases Flavonifractor plautii in the gut, which in turn suppresses an allergic food immune response.
Breastfeeding and risks of allergies and asthma
In an Acta Paediatrica study, exclusive breastfeeding for the first 3 months was linked with a lower risk of respiratory allergies and asthma when children reached 6 years of age.
Search for the source of antibodies would help treat allergies
Researchers of Sechenov University together with their colleagues from Russia and Austria summarised everything known about cells producing group E antibodies.
Changes in onset of spring linked to more allergies across the US
Human-induced climate change is disrupting nature's calendar, including when plants bloom and the spring season starts, and new research from the University of School of Public Health suggests we're increasingly paying the price for it in the form of seasonal allergies.
Prenatal allergies prompt sexual changes in offspring
A single allergic reaction during pregnancy prompts sexual-development changes in the brains of offspring that last a lifetime, new research suggests.
Food allergies: A research update
Families impacted by food allergies will need psychosocial support as they try promising new therapies that enable them to ingest a food allergen daily or wear a patch that administers a controlled dose of that food allergen.
How common are food allergies?
Survey data suggest at least one in 10 US adults are food allergic and nearly one in five believe they have a food allergy.
How does diet during pregnancy impact allergies in offspring?
A small percentage of women said they consumed fewer allergens during pregnancy to stave off food allergies in their newborns, according to preliminary research Karen Robbins, M.D., presented during the American College of Asthma Allergy and Immunology 2018 Annual Scientific Meeting.
Safest way to dine out for those with food allergies is using up to 15 strategies
New research examined what tools people who have food allergies use to prevent allergic reactions at restaurants.
More Allergies News and Allergies Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Mindset
In the past few months, human beings have come together to fight a global threat. This hour, TED speakers explore how our response can be the catalyst to fight another global crisis: climate change. Guests include political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac, diplomat Christiana Figueres, climate justice activist Xiye Bastida, and writer, illustrator, and artist Oliver Jeffers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Speedy Beet
There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit. Big thanks to our Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians: Deborah Buck and Suzy Perelman on violin, Arash Amini on cello, and Ah Ling Neu on viola. And check out The First Four Notes, Matthew Guerrieri's book on Beethoven's Fifth. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.