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Living with Food Allergies: Over 5 Million U.S. Kids Affected

Living with Food Allergies: Over 5 Million U.S. Kids Affected
November 19, 2018

A recent study led by researchers at Lurie Children’s and published in Pediatrics reveals that nearly 8 percent of U.S. children (roughly 5.6 million) have food allergies and nearly 40 percent of those children are allergic to more than one food.

“We now understand that one in five children with a food allergy in the U.S. are having an allergic reaction requiring a trip to the ED in the past year,” says Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, a pediatrician at Lurie Children’s who led the study. “Knowing this, it is essential that these children are prepared with an action plan and an epinephrine auto-injector. Only 40 percent of these children had a current prescription for one.”

The most common food allergy in U.S. children is caused by peanuts- affecting about 1.6 million children. Other top foods include an allergy to milk, shellfish, tree nut, egg, fin fish, wheat and soy. Sesame is the ninth most common food allergen among U.S. children, although it is currently not included in allergen labeling laws in the U.S.

“Our study found that sesame allergy prevalence and severity is comparable to that of other food allergens for which labeling is currently mandated, suggesting that sesame should be included under allergen labeling laws in the U.S., as is already the case in Canada, the European Union, Australia and Israel,” says Dr. Gupta, Sr. Scientist in Child Health Research at the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute at Lurie Children’s and Director of the Science & Outcomes of Allergy & Asthma Research (SOAAR) Program. She also is Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

For Ally Bradley, 13, the inclusion of sesame on food labels would be extremely helpful and even life-saving. Ally is severely allergic to sesame, as well as milk, tree nuts, peanuts, fish and shellfish.

Ally Bradley, who is severely allergic to sesame, as well as milk, tree nuts, peanuts, fish and shellfish.

“When Ally was younger, her dad and I started to realize that she was allergic to almost all food. I remember her doctors at Children’s Memorial – now Lurie Children’s- being shocked that she was allergic to so many foods,” says Amanda Bradley, Ally’s mom. “Fortunately Ally outgrew many of her food allergies, but the ones she still has are likely to remain. Living day-to-day with such severe food allergies is scary and frustrating. We do everything we can to keep Ally safe.”

One safety measure the Bradleys take to ensure Ally doesn’t ingest the wrong foods is calling companies to check a product’s ingredients. “Since sesame isn’t required to be included on labels we call companies to check to see if a product is safe for Ally. But so often we don’t get an answer because companies are not required to disclose whether sesame is an ingredient in their products. We avoid so many foods as a result of not knowing if they contain sesame, and going out to eat is nearly impossible.”

Over the years, Ally herself has become very proactive about taking charge of her allergies. “We are so proud of Ally’s level of responsibility in managing her food allergies,” says Amanda. “We are hopeful that one day the research taking place at Lurie Children’s and elsewhere will lead to better treatments and possibly even a cure for food allergy.”

Dr. Gupta’s study represents Lurie Children’s ongoing research to discover innovative ways to care for children. Research at Lurie Children’s is conducted through the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute, which is focused on improving child health, transforming pediatric medicine and ensuring healthier futures through the relentless pursuit of knowledge.