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Children's Health

Food Allergies in Kids More Common Than Thought

Survey Shows 8% of Children Under Age 18 Are Allergic to at Least 1 Food
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Tracking Food Allergies in Kids

Because the study was so large, researchers weren't able to use clinical measures, like blood tests or medical records to count allergy cases.

Instead, they relied on parents to report either a doctor's diagnosis or classic symptoms.

The survey, which randomly sampled parents across the country, was designed by a panel of allergy expert. The panel agreed on what symptoms to include as allergic reactions.

When symptoms reported by parents didn't match, researchers discounted the reports. For example, reports of bloating after drinking milk, which may be more indicative of lactose intolerance than a true milk allergy, were dropped.

Still, experts said, because the study didn't include objective measures, the numbers may have been skewed.

"The overall prevalence estimate of 8% seems on the high side compared to most of the prior estimates," says Scott H. Sicherer, MD, a professor of pediatrics at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai Medical School in New York City.

Previous studies, however, were smaller and had other significant limitations. For example, one survey relied on a single question to tally allergies. Other studies only looked at allergies from a select trigger, like peanuts.

And because the current study didn't track reports of allergies over time, it's impossible to say whether the new number represents an increase in food allergies in kids.

"This is a unique study because it was large, evaluated many different foods, and gives some insights on severity and risk of food allergies in children," says Sicherer, who has reviewed other estimates of food allergies in children but was not involved in the current research.

Experts say study is also important because it hints at some of the misery that is visited on children with food allergies.

"Children who are peanut allergic are relegated to the peanut-free table at school, which kind of makes them feel like outcasts," says Schuval. "Plus there's a fear of having an allergic reaction after eating certain foods or going to a restaurant. It really can affect your whole life."

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