Feb 4, 2019

Food allergies more common among adults in the U.S.

Illustration of a grocery bag with warning labels for milk, sesame, eggs, wheat, and shellfish.

Illustration:Aïda Amer/Axios

Groundbreaking new research has found that nearly 11% of U.S. adults have a food allergy, more than many expected, with a substantial number acquiring the allergies as adults.

Why it matters: Allergies force major accommodations to protect the vulnerable. This is a problem you'd expect to lessen with modern medicine, but it seems to be getting worse.

The WSJ recaps some theories behind the rise:

  • "[I]ncreasing use of antibiotics"
  • "[R]ising rates of C-sections"
  • "[I]ncreasingly sterile environments"

Between the lines: Researchers don't know if this problem is new, because it's never been studied like this before.

  • But doctors told the WSJ that, anecdotally, they're seeing more adult-onset patients.
  • Flashback to WSJ in 2017: "The rate of reports of severe allergic reactions to foods like peanuts has increased by nearly five times over the past decade, according to a new analysis of private insurance claims."

By the numbers, per the Journal: Nearly twice as many Americans think they have a food allergy and have symptoms consistent with a diagnosis.

  • 7.2% of women reported an adult-onset allergy vs. 3% of men, per the JAMA study the WSJ cites.
  • "[A]bout half of adult shellfish and wheat allergies developed after age 17, while fewer than one in five peanut allergies first appeared during adulthood."

The bottom line: These adult-onset allergies can be life-changing, affecting far more people than just the diagnosed.

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