THURSDAY, May 2 (HealthDay News) -- The number of American
children who suffer from food and skin allergies has increased
dramatically in recent years, a new government report shows.
Interestingly, the prevalence of food and respiratory allergies
rose with income: Children living in families that made more than
200 percent of the poverty level had the highest rates, the
"The prevalence of food and skin allergies both increased over the past 14 years," said report co-author LaJeana Howie, from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "This has been a consistent trend."
With food allergies, the overall rate went from 3.4 percent in
1997 to 5.1 percent in 2011. With skin allergies, the overall rate
increased from 7.4 percent in 1997 to 12.5 percent in 2011. The
prevalence of respiratory allergies remained constant, at 17
percent, between 1997 and 2011, although it remained the most
common type of allergy affecting children, according to the NCHS
report published May 2.
Pediatric allergists noted that they have been seeing the trend
in their own practices.
Dr. Vivian Hernandez-Trujillo, director of allergy and
immunology at Miami Children's Hospital, said: "We are certainly
seeing increases in food and skin allergy in pediatric
However, why these allergies are on the rise remains a mystery,
another expert pointed out.
"We do not know why there has been an increase, but the theories include the 'hygiene hypothesis'; that reduced infection and reduced exposure to germs has left our immune systems 'looking for a fight' and attacking innocent proteins," explained Dr. Scott Sicherer, chief of the division of pediatric allergy and immunology at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.
In addition, there are theories about insufficient vitamin D,
unhealthy fats in the diet, the obesity epidemic and processed
food, none of which have been confirmed with hard science, he
These increases are real, Sicherer added. "They speak to a need
for more research toward prevention and cures," he said.
"We and others are undertaking studies to try to better understand the risk factors and opportunities for prevention, while aggressively doing research on multiple means to treat those with food allergies," Sicherer said.
Racial differences did emerge in the data.
The researchers found Hispanic children had the lowest
prevalence of food, skin and respiratory allergies, compared with
And black children were more likely to have skin allergies than
white children (17.4 percent versus 12 percent, respectively), but
less likely to have respiratory allergies (15.6 percent versus 19.1
Age also was a factor in the prevalence of skin and respiratory
allergies, the report noted.
With skin allergies, the rate dropped with age: 14.2 percent of
those aged 4 and younger had them, while 13.1 percent of those aged
5 to 9, and 10.9 percent of those aged 10 to 17 had them.
The opposite was true for respiratory allergies: 10.8 percent of
those aged 4 and younger had them, while 17.4 percent of those aged
5 to 9 and 20.8 percent of those aged 10 to 17 had them.
Last, but not least, there was the income gap.
Among families making less than 100 percent of poverty level,
4.4 percent of those children had food allergies and 14.9 percent
had respiratory allergies. Among families making more than 200
percent of poverty level, 5.4 percent of those children had food
allergies and 18.3 percent had respiratory allergies.
John Lehr, CEO of Food Allergy Research & Education, added
that the report "confirms what we have already known, which is that
millions of children are affected by food allergies, and this
potentially deadly disease is a serious and growing public health
concern. The CDC's report reinforces the need for education and
awareness about food allergies across the country."
For more information on childhood allergies, visit the
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