HYATTSVILLE, Md., Oct. 23 -- Reports by parents that their children have food allergies have increased sharply in the past decade, CDC researchers reported.
Whether the surging reports represent a true rise in food allergies or an increase in awareness of the condition is not clear, said Amy Branum, M.S.P.H., of the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, who reported with Susan L. Lukacs, D.O., M.S.P.H., that in the years 1997 to 2007 there has been an 18% increase.
Yet in an NCHS Data Brief they said that more than three million children -- or four of every 100 younger than 18 -- had reported a food or digestive allergy in the previous 12 months.
These data came from a National Health Interview Survey of parents of 9,500 children in 2007 and the National Hospital Discharge Survey. The latter is a sample of 270,000 inpatient records from about 500 hospitals, and it gave an estimate the number of hospital discharges among children attributable to food allergies.
Both the survey results and hospital discharge data showed the same trend -- a growing number of children with food allergies.
"Food allergy has certainly received quite a bit of attention in the news and other outlets in past few years," said Branum. "There's always the possibility that kids are getting in to see doctors more, and parents are taking some of the signs and symptoms more seriously."
She added that she thinks diagnostic tools used to assess allergies have improved over the past decade leading to more frequent diagnosis.
But Ann Munoz-Furlong, founder and CEO of the nonprofit Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, disagreed and said that all allergies, including food allergies, are on the rise.
"We are becoming more allergic as a population," Munoz-Furlong said. "And we need to find out why, so we can stop it."
The study also found that children with food allergies were two to four times more likely than those with no food allergies to have asthma and other allergies.
"I think that it's important for physicians and parents to realize this because these food allergies obviously do not occur in isolation from other problems," Branum said.