Exploring racial differences in IgE-mediated food allergy in the WHEALS birth cohort

Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2016 Mar;116(3):219-224.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.anai.2015.12.019. Epub 2016 Feb 2.


Background: Suspected food allergies are the cause of more than 200,000 visits to the emergency department annually. Racial differences in the prevalence of food allergy have also been reported, but the evidence is less conclusive. Researchers continue to struggle with the identification of food allergy for epidemiologic studies.

Objective: To explore racial differences in IgE-mediated food allergy (IgE-FA) in a birth cohort.

Methods: We used a panel of board-certified allergists to systematically identify IgE-FA to egg, milk, or peanut in a multiethnic birth cohort in which patient medical history, patient symptoms, and clinical data were available through 36 months of age.

Results: Of the 590 infants analyzed, 52.9% were male and 65.8% African American. Sensitization (serum specific IgE >0.35 IU/mL) to the food allergens was significantly higher for African American children compared with non-African American children as has been previously reported. No statistically significant racial/ethnic differences in IgE-FA were observed; however, a higher proportion of African American children were designated as having peanut allergy, and the percentage of African American children with an IgE level greater than 95% predictive decision points for peanut was 1.7% vs 0.5% for non-African American children. With the use of logistic regression, race/ethnicity was not significantly associated with IgE-FA (adjusted odds ratio, 1.12; 95% confidence interval, 0.58-2.17; P = .75) but was associated with sensitization to more than 1 of the food allergens (adjusted odds ratio, 1.80; 95% confidence interval, 1.22-2.65; P = .003).

Conclusion: We did not observe an elevated risk of IgE-FA for African American children, although established differences in sensitization were observed. Racial/ethnic differences in sensitization must be taken into consideration when investigating disparities in asthma and allergy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Allergens / classification
  • Allergens / immunology
  • Animals
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Ethnicity*
  • Female
  • Food Hypersensitivity / epidemiology*
  • Food Hypersensitivity / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin E / blood
  • Immunoglobulin E / immunology*
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Odds Ratio
  • Prevalence
  • Skin Tests


  • Allergens
  • Immunoglobulin E