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  • Jefferson Adams

    More than One in Ten US Adults Has a Food Allergy

    Jefferson Adams
    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

      How common are food allergies among adults in the United States? How severe are the symptoms, on average? A new study reveals that more than ten percent of adults in the US have a potentially serious food allergy.

    Image: CC--Leigh Harries
    Caption: Image: CC--Leigh Harries

    Celiac.com 01/21/2019 - A population-based survey study of more than 40,000 adults in the United States shows that just over one in ten people had an allergy to at least one food at the time of the survey. However, the same study reveals that nearly 20% of adults believed themselves to have a food allergy. 

    Half of the adults with food allergies reacted to at least one food, while nearly 40% reported at least one food allergy-related emergency room visit in their lifetime.

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    According to the US FDA, the most common food allergens are milk, peanuts, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, soy, tree nuts and wheat.

    How common are food allergies among adults in the United States? How severe are the symptoms, on average?

    Researchers Seek Accurate Estimates of Adults with Food Allergies

    A team of researchers recently set out to provide accurate estimates of the national distribution, severity, and factors associated with adult food allergies. The research team included Ruchi S. Gupta, MD, MPH; Christopher M. Warren, BA; Bridget M. Smith, PhD; et al Jialing Jiang, BA; Jesse A. Blumenstock, BS; Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP; Robert P. Schleimer, PhD; and Kari C. Nadeau, MD, PhD

    There have been numerous studies on food allergies in children, but very little is known about food allergy in adults. 

    Food Allergy Can Start in Adulthood

    The team’s results indicate that more than 10% of US adults, more than 26 million people in all, are allergic to at least one food. That means that food allergies are both common and severe among adults in the United States. Moreover, food allergies often begin in adulthood, rather than in childhood, as is commonly believed.

    The team calls for greater scrutiny of adults with suspected food allergies, including proper testing and consultation to make sure patients are avoiding the correct foods, and not unnecessarily avoiding foods that are okay for them to eat.



    The researchers are variously affiliated with the Institute for Public Health and Medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois; the Department of Pediatrics, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois; Mary Ann & J. Milburn Smith Child Health Research, Outreach, and Advocacy Center, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, Chicago, Illinois; the Department of Medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois; the Department of Preventive Medicine, University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, Los Angeles; the Center for Innovation for Complex Chronic Healthcare, Edward J. Hines Jr Veterans Affairs Hospital, Hines, Illinois; the Department of Medical Social Sciences, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois; the Department of Preventive Medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois; and the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research, Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, California.


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    How was it determined who had an allergy? If tests were given, how severe of a reaction was considered positive? I am convinced that almost everyone is significantly allergic to something, but people just ignore the symptoms. I am extremely allergic to dairy and gluten. I can be sick for weeks from dairy exposure. I have never been hospitalized for something that was clearly related to an allergy, unless you count chronic conditions like colitis. There is something wrong with this study when 40% of those who were allergic had related hospital visits. This means that the study did not identify all the people who had allergies. I also question whether this study was not somehow biased in who was included or in some other factor, because I don't believe that 4% of the general population have been hospitalized as a direct result of an allergy. Yet the study reports that 10% have allergies, and 40% of those were hospitalized. In summary, the conclusion that 10% of people have allergies is a very low estimate, but I am not basing that on this study, as I don't think that this study is valid.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,500 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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