Children living in urban centers have a much higher prevalence of food allergies than those living in rural areas, according to a new study, which is the first to map children’s food allergies by geographical location in the United States. In particular, kids in big cities are more than twice as likely to have peanut and shellfish allergies compared to rural communities.
The study, which was funded by the Food Allergy Initiative (FAI), will be published in the July issue of Clinical Pediatrics.
“We have found for the first time that higher population density corresponds with a greater likelihood of food allergies in children,” said lead author Ruchi Gupta, M.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a physician at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago (formerly Children’s Memorial). “This shows that environment has an impact on developing food allergies. Similar trends have been seen for related conditions like asthma. The big question is – what in the environment is triggering them? A better understanding of environmental factors will help us with prevention efforts.”
Gupta, also a researcher at the Institute for Healthcare Studies at the Feinberg School, said some of her future research will focus on trying to identify the environmental causes.
The study included 38,465 children, 18 years and under, who comprised a representative sample of U.S. households. Their food allergies were mapped by ZIP code.
Here are the key findings:
- In urban centers, 9.8 percent of children have food allergies, compared to 6.2 percent in rural communities, almost a 3.5 percent difference.
- Peanut allergies are twice as prevalent in urban centers as in rural communities, with 2.8 percent of children having the allergy in urban centers compared to 1.3 percent in rural communities. Shellfish allergies are more than double the prevalence in urban versus rural areas; 2.4 percent of children have shellfish allergies in urban centers compared to 0.8 percent in rural communities.
- Food allergies are equally severe regardless of where a child lives, the study found. Nearly 40 percent of food-allergic children in the study had already experienced a severe, life-threatening reaction to food.
- The states with the highest overall prevalence of food allergies are Nevada, Florida, Georgia, Alaska, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and the District of Columbia.
“Dr. Gupta’s ongoing research on food allergy prevalence among children in the U.S. is providing critical information to help us address the growing public health issue of food allergies,” said Mary Jane Marchisotto, FAI’s executive director. “We are committed to finding a cure for food allergies and this study provides additional insight about why certain people have food allergies and others do not.”
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