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.
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.
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The Mount Sinai Health System is New York City's largest integrated delivery system, encompassing eight hospitals, a leading medical school, and a vast network of ambulatory practices throughout the greater New York region. Mount Sinai's vision is to produce the safest care, the highest quality, the highest satisfaction, the best access and the best value of any health system in the nation. The Health System includes approximately 7,480 primary and specialty care physicians; 11 joint-venture ambulatory surgery centers; more than 410 ambulatory practices throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, Long Island, and Florida; and 31 affiliated community health centers. The Icahn School of Medicine is one of three medical schools that have earned distinction by multiple indicators: ranked in the top 20 by U.S. News & World Report's "Best Medical Schools", aligned with a U.S. News & World Report's "Honor Roll" Hospital, No. 12 in the nation for National Institutes of Health funding, and among the top 10 most innovative research institutions as ranked by the journal Nature in its Nature Innovation Index. This reflects a special level of excellence in education, clinical practice, and research. The Mount Sinai Hospital is ranked No. 14 on U.S. News & World Report's "Honor Roll" of top U.S. hospitals; it is one of the nation's top 20 hospitals in Cardiology/Heart Surgery, Diabetes/Endocrinology, Gastroenterology/GI Surgery, Geriatrics, Gynecology, Nephrology, Neurology/Neurosurgery, and Orthopedics in the 2019-2020 "Best Hospitals" issue. Mount Sinai's Kravis Children's Hospital also is ranked nationally in five out of ten pediatric specialties by U.S. News & World Report. The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai is ranked 12th nationally for Ophthalmology, Mount Sinai St. Lukes and Mount Sinai West are ranked 23rd nationally for Nephrology and 25th for Diabetes/Endocrinology, and Mount Sinai South Nassau is ranked 35th nationally for Urology. Mount Sinai Beth Israel, Mount Sinai St. Luke's, Mount Sinai West, and Mount Sinai South Nassau are ranked regionally.