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African-American Kids May Have More Food Allergies

Study Suggests Genetic and Environmental Factors May Play a Role in Higher Allergy Rate

Food Allergies and Race

In an effort to better understand the reasons for the racial disparity in food allergies, Kumar and colleagues analyzed data on just over 1,100 predominantly minority children enrolled in a Boston-based birth study.

Their analysis included genetic assessment of ancestry because, in the U.S. especially, self-identified race may underestimate genetic variability, especially for African-Americans and Hispanics, Kumar says.

"There is often a great deal of variation even within groups that self-identify as one race," he says.

Genetic ancestry was determined by measuring accepted genetic variations associated with African, European, and Asian descent.

About one in three study participants had evidence of food allergies. Self-reported black race was associated with a more than twofold increase in food allergy risk.

Genetic African ancestry was associated with a high risk of peanut allergy, with each 10% increase in African ancestry increasing the risk by 25%.

Kumar and colleagues hypothesize that environmental factors, such as the timing of a food's introduction, may be the major trigger for milk allergies, while genes may play a bigger role in peanut allergies.

Andrew H. Liu, MD, who led the NHANES-data study, tells WebMD that the new research adds to the evidence that African-Americans have a higher risk for food allergies.

Liu is an associate professor of pediatric allergies at National Jewish Medical Research Center in Denver.

"We still don't know how much of this risk is attributable to African ancestry and genetic heritage and how much is due to other causes," he tells WebMD. "But at the clinical level, this is something we need to be aware of."

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