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More Children with Peanut Allergies

If it seems like more kids have peanut allergies than in years past, unfortunately, it is not your imagination. A study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in late 2003 reported that the prevalence of peanut allergies in children doubled between 1997 and 2002, increasing from 0.4% to 0.8% of children. That means an estimated one in 125 children suffers from a peanut allergy.

The results can be deadly. According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, peanut allergies are to blame for nearly 100 deaths and 15,000 emergency room visits each year, accounting for about half of the deaths and ER visits caused by all food allergies.

Tree nuts, such as almonds, cashews, pecans, and walnuts, are also a concern. One survey found that 1.3% of adults — about 1 in 77 — are allergic to peanuts or tree nuts. Allergies to either peanuts or tree nuts cause about 80% of the 30,000 anaphylaxis cases seen in U.S. emergency rooms each year.

To help stem that tide, in 2004 Congress passed the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, which required the top eight allergens in foods to be listed on labels by January 1, 2006. The top eight allergens are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, and soy. Manufacturers must use ingredients’ common or usual names so consumers can easily determine whether they are in the product. For example, if a product contains the milk-derived protein casein, the label must include “milk” so that people can easily see the food they’re buying contains a milk product.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting until infants are 4-6 months old before introducing non-breast milk foods. For children at high risk due to family history of food allergies, exclusive breastfeeding for the first 4-6 months is recommended.

The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network advises anyone with a peanut or tree nut allergy to carry epinephrine, medication that could control a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. In 2003, the group found that only 46 percent of children and 23 percent of adults who were evaluated for food allergies were prescribed epinephrine.

This article originally appeared in Chow Line (1/8/2006), a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2005.

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