Study offers hard data on food allergies

Anecdotal evidence of food allergies abounds, but just how common are these allergies and intolerances? In a new study, investigators from Brigham and Women’s Hospital combed through medical records from more than 2.7 million patients, identifying more than 97,000 with one or more documented food allergy or intolerance. Their findings are published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

“Recent reports suggest that food allergies are on the rise, with more food-allergy related hospitalizations in the U.S. over the last decade. However, many studies have been based on telephone surveys or have focused on a specific food allergen or allergen group,” said Li Zhou, MD, PhD, of the Division of General Medicine Primary Care at BWH. “We recognized that the electronic health record system could offer a treasure trove of information about allergies to better understand which populations may be most affected and just how common food allergies and intolerances are in the U.S.”

Some of the team’s findings include:

  • Food allergy or intolerance were documented for 3.6 percent of the population studied
  • Shellfish was the most commonly reported food allergy
  • The highest rates of food allergies or intolerance were among females and Asians

The multidisciplinary team, including a medical student, Warren Acker; an allergist, Kimberly Blumenthal, MD, MSc; patient safety experts and informaticians, used food and allergy intolerance data collected at Partners HealthCare between 2000 and 2013, including information from multiple community and specialty hospitals as well as community health centers. The team examined data on culprit foods, reaction(s) to that allergen, date/time of the reaction and more. The research team used the term “food allergies and intolerances” to include any adverse reaction to food (such as hives, anaphylaxis, shortness of breath, wheezing, itching, swelling and more) as well as pseudoallergic reactions, intolerances and even food…

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