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Prevalence of self-reported food allergy in American adults and use of food labels.

Vierk, K.A., K.M. Koehler, S.B. Fein, D.A. Street, 2007. Prevalence of self-reported food allergy in American adults and use of food labels. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 119:1504-10.

Background: Few population-based studies in the United States have determined the prevalence of food allergy in adults and the problems these individuals might have with reading food labels. Objective: The objectives of this study are to report the prevalence of self-reported food allergy, to identify the characteristics of food allergy reactions, and to describe the use of labels among adults with food allergy. Methods: Questions from the US Food and Drug Administration’s 2001 Food Safety Survey were analyzed to determine the prevalence of food allergy and opinions about food labels in the management of food allergy. Results: The prevalence of self-reported food allergy is 9.1% among all survey respondents, with 5.3% of all respondents reporting a doctor-diagnosed food allergy. The prevalence of food allergy to the 8 most common allergens (peanut, tree nuts, egg, milk, wheat, soybeans, fish, and crustacean shellfish) is self-reported as 2.7% among respondents with doctors’ diagnoses. Several label issues, such as words on some ingredient lists being too technical or hard to understand and food labels not always alerting persons to new ingredients, were reported as serious or very serious obstacles for managing an allergy. Conclusion: The prevalence of self-reported doctor-diagnosed food allergy among US adults is 5.3%, and a large portion of adults with food allergy found certain label issues a serious problem for managing their food allergy. Clinical implications: The findings provide a needed source of population-based prevalence data of food allergy among US adults. Label issues identified are useful in understanding the difficulties of managing a food allergy.