The number of young people who had a food or digestive allergy increased 18 percent between 1997 and 2007, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2007, approximately 3 million U.S. children and teenagers under age 18 -- or nearly 4 percent of that age group -- were reported to have a food or digestive allergy in the previous 12 months, compared to just over 2.3 million (3.3 percent) in 1997.
The findings are published in a new data brief, "Food Allergy Among U.S. Children: Trends in Prevalence and Hospitalizations." The data are from the National Health Interview Survey and the National Hospital Discharge Survey, both conducted by CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.
The report found that eight types of food account for 90 percent of all food allergies: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat. Reactions to these foods by an allergic person can range from a tingling sensation around the mouth and lips, to hives and even death, depending on the severity of the reaction.
Children with food allergy are two to four times more likely to have other related conditions such as asthma and other allergies, compared to children without food allergies, the report said.
Boys and girls had similar rates of food allergy -- 3.8 percent for boys and 4.1 percent for girls.
Approximately 4.7 percent of children younger than 5 years had a reported food allergy compared to 3.7 percent of children and teens aged 5 to 17 years.
Hispanic children had lower rates of reported food allergy (3.1 percent) than non-Hispanic white (4.1 percent) or non-Hispanic black children (4 percent.)
In 2007, 29 percent of children with food allergy also had reported asthma compared to 12 percent of children without food allergy.
Approximately 27 percent of children with food allergy had reported eczema or skin allergy, compared to 8 percent of children without food allergy.
Over 30 percent of children with food allergy also had reported respiratory allergy, compared with 9 percent of children with no food allergy.
From 2004 to 2006, there were approximately 9,537 hospital discharges per year with a diagnosis related to food allergy among children from birth to 17 years. Hospital discharges with a diagnosis related to food allergy increased significantly over time between 1998-2000 through 2004-2006.
The mechanisms by which a person develops an allergy to specific foods are largely unknown. Food allergy is more prevalent in children than adults. Most affected children will outgrow food allergies, although food allergy can be a lifelong concern.