Adverse reactions to foods can occur for a variety of reasons, but a food allergy is caused by a specific immune response. Challenges to determine the prevalence of food allergy include misclassification, biased participation, lack of simple diagnostic tests, rapid evolution of disease, large numbers of potential triggers, and varied clinical phenotypes. Nonetheless, it is clear that this is a common disorder, with studies suggesting a cumulative prevalence of 3% to 6%, representing a significant impact on quality of life and costs. The inclusion of mild reactions to fruits and vegetables could result in calculation of prevalence exceeding 10% in some regions. There are data from numerous studies to suggest an increase in prevalence, but methodologic concerns warrant caution. Prevalence varies by age, geographic location, and possibly race/ethnicity. Many childhood food allergies resolve. Population-based epidemiologic studies have generated numerous novel theories regarding risks, including modifiable factors such as components of the maternal and infant diet, obesity, and the timing of food introduction. Recent and ongoing studies provide insights on risk factors, prevalence, and natural course that may inform clinical trials to improve diagnosis, prevention, and treatment.
Copyright © 2011 American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Published by Mosby, Inc. All rights reserved.