CHICAGO — Food allergies are really common. However, Northwestern University researchers reveal that ethnic minorities are more likely to have them.
Despite how common food allergies are, the nature of these conditions is still unclear. Even less understood is how different racial and ethnic communities are impacted due to little research on this topic. Moreover, researchers say members of these communities tend to have less awareness about food allergies in the first place, feeding the cycle even more. Changing these realities is crucial to improving fair access to diagnosis and treatments.
“Food allergies are not frequently talked about impacting racial and ethnic communities,” says study corresponding author Dr. Ruchi Gupta. “It’s not on the radar. But we now know it does impact them more, and it’s important to improve awareness.”
Two decades ago, when Gupta first started conducting food allergy research, researchers didn’t know that any disparities even existed.
“We now know that racial and ethnic minorities as well as underserved populations often do not get to an allergist for diagnosis,” explains Gupta in a university release. “They have the symptoms of food allergy but the access to get to a specialist has been challenging, and the fact that there were no treatments led them to just try and avoid the food.”
Gupta’s most recent research factored in race and socioeconomic status to conduct a population-based survey, administered online and over the phone to more than 80,000 people across 50,000 households. Most notably, the study found:
- Food allergy prevalence is highest in Asians (10.5%), Hispanics (10.6%), and Blacks (10.6%).
- Black individuals with food allergies were most likely to report being allergic to multiple foods (50.6%).
- Asian and White individuals had the lowest rates of severe allergic reactions.
- Food allergy prevalence was lowest in homes earning over $150,000 per year (8.3%).
The work also suggests that different allergic conditions all follow similar patterns when it comes to who is affected. The ensemble of conditions is part of a progression that starts in infancy and developed into childhood. This pattern, called the atopic march, includes eczema, food allergies, allergic rhinitis, and asthma.
“There haven’t been enough genetic changes over the last 30 to 40 years to explain this grouping of allergic conditions,” explains study co-author Christopher Warren, an epidemiologist and an assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Clearly, something has changed in the environment. It behooves us to figure out what are those changes, and how can we reverse them or add interventions to mitigate them.”
“It is an exciting time in food allergy with new diagnostics, prevention and treatments,” Gupta concludes. “Our goal is to see these numbers start to come down in the next 30 to 40 years.”
The findings are published in the journal JAMA Network Open.
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