A study conducted by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) sought to provide hard data regarding the prevalence of food allergies and intolerances. They scrutinized the medical records of 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.
Said Dr Li Zhou, Assistant Professor of Medicine at BWH:
Recent reports suggest that food allergies are on the rise, with more food-allergy related hospitalizations in the US over the last decade. However, many studies have been based on telephone surveys or have focused on a specific food allergen or allergen group. 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 US.
The research team 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 trigger 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 pseudo-allergic reactions, intolerances and even food preferences reported in the health record.
Some findings reported include:
- Food allergy or intolerance were documented for 3.6% 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;
- 13,000 reported allergy or intolerance to peanut, more than half of which had hives, anaphylaxis, or other potentially IgE-mediated reactions.
The team noted that though food allergies are common, there are fewer than 7,000 allergists/immunologists in the US, suggesting the US doesn’t have the capacity to evaluate allergies for all patients who initially test positive (only 1 in 5 patients with a peanut allergy received follow up allergy testing).