• Press Release

Rate of Childhood Peanut Allergies More than Tripled Between 1997 and 2008

Results of a nationwide telephone survey show that the rate of peanut allergies in children more than tripled from 1997 to 2008.

  • New York, NY
  • (May 12, 2010)

Results of a nationwide telephone survey have shown that the rate of peanut allergies in children more than tripled from 1997 to 2008. The data are reported in the May 12 issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Led by Scott H. Sicherer, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, researchers surveyed a total of 5,300 households, representing 13,534 individuals in 2008, a response rate of 42 percent. The survey was previously conducted in 1997 and 2002, with a 52 percent and 67 percent response rate, respectively. In 2008, 1.4 percent of children in the survey were reported to have peanut allergies, as opposed to just 0.4 percent in 1997. The prevalence of combined peanut or tree nut allergies in children was 2.1 percent in 2008, compared to 0.6 percent in 1997.

“These results show that there is an alarming increase in peanut allergies, consistent with a general, although less dramatic, rise in food allergies among children in studies reported by the CDC,” said Dr. Sicherer. “The data underscore the need for more study of these dangerous allergies.”

The study is the first of its kind to incorporate all age groups within a national sample, and to use the same study methods over such an extended period of time. The study is also the first U.S. study to evaluate allergies to sesame seeds. Peanut and/or tree nut allergies remained steady among adults, with a rate of 1.3 percent. Tree nut allergies alone in children also increased from 0.2 percent in 1997 to 1.1 percent in 2008. Sesame allergy was reported in 0.1 percent of children and adults.

“Our research shows that more than three million Americans report peanut and/or tree nut allergies, representing a significant health burden,” said Dr. Sicherer. “The data also emphasize the importance of developing better prevention and treatment strategies.”

Several theories exist as to why there could be a spike in food allergies. The main theory to explain a rise in allergic disease, including food allergy, is the "hygiene hypothesis" that generally suggests that "clean living" with less farm living and the use of medications to prevent and quickly treat infections leaves our immune system in a state that is more prone to attack harmless proteins like those in foods, pollens, and animal dander. Other theories include the timing of introduction of the food and how the food is prepared.

The authors caution that the study has limitations inherent to telephone surveys, which may over-represent households of high socioeconomic status because homes without telephones are excluded. There are also limitations in the self-reported nature of the survey, and identifying “true” allergy. However, the rate of childhood peanut allergy estimated in the current study is similar to results from studies using different methods in Canada, Australia and the UK.

About The Mount Sinai Medical Center 

The Mount Sinai Medical Center encompasses both The Mount Sinai Hospital and Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Established in 1968, Mount Sinai School of Medicine is one of few medical schools embedded in a hospital in the United States. It has more than 3,400 faculty in 32 departments and 15 institutes, and ranks among the top 20 medical schools both in National Institute of Health funding and by U.S. News & World Report. The school received the 2009 Spencer Foreman Award for Outstanding Community Service from the Association of American Medical Colleges. 

The Mount Sinai Hospital, founded in 1852, is a 1,171-bed tertiary- and quaternary-care teaching facility and one of the nation’s oldest, largest and most-respected voluntary hospitals. In 2009, U.S. News & World Report ranked The Mount Sinai Hospital among the nation’s top 20 hospitals based on reputation, patient safety, and other patient-care factors. Nearly 60,000 people were treated at Mount Sinai as inpatients last year, and approximately 530,000 outpatient visits took place. 

For more information, visit www.mountsinai.org.


About the Mount Sinai Health System

The Mount Sinai Health System is New York City's largest academic medical system, encompassing eight hospitals, a leading medical school, and a vast network of ambulatory practices throughout the greater New York region. Mount Sinai is a national and international source of unrivaled education, translational research and discovery, and collaborative clinical leadership ensuring that we deliver the highest quality care—from prevention to treatment of the most serious and complex human diseases. The Health System includes more than 7,200 physicians and features a robust and continually expanding network of multispecialty services, including more than 400 ambulatory practice locations throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, and Long Island. The Mount Sinai Hospital is ranked No. 14 on U.S. News & World Report's "Honor Roll" of the Top 20 Best Hospitals in the country and the Icahn School of Medicine as one of the Top 20 Best Medical Schools in country. Mount Sinai Health System hospitals are consistently ranked regionally by specialty and our physicians in the top 1% of all physicians nationally by U.S. News & World Report.

For more information, visit https://www.mountsinai.org or find Mount Sinai on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.