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The incidence of peanut and tree nut allergy among children appears to have tripled since 1997, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology.
A team of researchers led by Dr. Scott H. Sicherer of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York has been tracking this trend since 1997, when it conducted its first telephone survey on the issue. The team’s latest findings employ information obtained in 2008 from over U.S. 5,000 households.
“The study is unique, because we used the same methods over three time periods, 1997, 2002 and 2008, focusing on the general U.S. population’s self-reported peanut and tree nut allergies,” explained Sicherer. “Although the study has limitations, as it is a self-report survey, the results are in line with recent studies of peanut allergy from Canada, the U.K., and Australia that currently estimate more than 1 percent of children have peanut allergy.”
Peanut and tree nut allergy are among the food allergens most often associated with severe reactions such as anaphylaxis, which can be fatal. Additionally, the new study is the first in the United States to evaluate sesame allergy.
“This study gives us even more evidence that the number of people with peanut and tree nut allergy is growing,” noted Maria Acebal, VP of research administration and general counsel for the Fairfax, Va.-based Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network. “We need to address this increase, as well as the emergence of sesame allergy, with research dedicated to finding a cure for life-threatening food allergies.”
The study, which is the first of its kind to include all age groups within a national sample, found the following:
—1.4 percent of children are allergic to peanuts, up from 0.8 percent in 2002 and 0.4 percent in 1997
—1.1 percent of kids are allergic to tree nuts, up from 0.5 percent in 2002 and 0.2 percent in 1997
—0.1 percent of children are allergic to sesame
—3.6 percent of households reported peanut and/or tree nut allergies
The reasons for such a dramatic rise in reported allergies are still unknown to experts, however. “Unfortunately, we do not have a good explanation for the increase, and more studies are needed to address prevention and treatment,” said Sicherer.