Survey finds peanut allergies on the rise

by Eric Schroeder
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NEW YORK — A new survey from the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine has found that the rate of peanut allergies in children more than tripled between 1997 and 2008. Results of the study, which surveyed 5,300 households via telephone in 2008, were published in the May 12 issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

According to the survey, 1.4% of children reported having peanut allergies in 2008, up from 0.4% in 1997. Tree nut allergies rose to 1.1% in 2008 from 0.2% in 1997. In total, 2.1% of children said they had either a peanut or tree nut allergy, up from 0.6% in 1997.

“These results show that there is an alarming increase in peanut allergies, consistent with a general, although less dramatic, rise in food allergies among children in studies reported by the C.D.C.,” said Scott H. Sicherer, professor of pediatrics at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute. “The data underscore the need for more study of these dangerous allergies.”

The survey found the rate of peanut and/or tree nut allergies held steady at 1.3% among adults during the decade.

The institute said the survey is the first of its kind to incorporate all age groups within a national sample, and to use the same study methods over such an extended period of time. It also marks the first study to evaluate allergies to sesame seeds.

“Our research shows that more than three million Americans report peanut and/or tree nut allergies, representing a significant health burden,” Dr. Sicherer said. “The data also emphasize the importance of developing better prevention and treatment strategies.”

The institute cited several reasons for the spike in food allergies, including the “clean living” theory, which suggests that the use of medications to prevent and quickly treat infections leaves immune systems more susceptible to attack from foods, pollens and animal dander. The timing of a food’s introduction as well as how foods are prepared also were cited as potential reasons.

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