Researchers from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine conducted telephone interviews with 5,300 households during 2008, representing 13,534 individuals. They found that 1.4 percent of children were reported to have peanut allergies, compared to 0.4 percent in 1997. And 2.4 percent of children were reported to have peanut and/or tree nut allergies in 2008, compared to 0.6 percent in 1997.
Lead researcher and professor of pediatrics at the school Dr. Scott Sicherer said:
“These results show that there is an alarming increase in peanut allergies, consistent with a general, although less dramatic, rise in food allergies among children in studies reported by the CDC. The data underscore the need for more study of these dangerous allergies.”
The researchers cautioned that the study has limitations due to its self-reported nature, as it could not be determined how many children had ‘true’ allergies. They also said that because it was a telephone survey, it may under-represent lower-income households that may not have a telephone.
However, the researchers noted that their findings were consistent with those from other countries that used different methods, including Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.
Among adults, the reported prevalence of nut allergies remained unchanged at 1.3 percent.
Dr. Sicherer said: “Our research shows that more than three million Americans report peanut and/or tree nut allergies, representing a significant health burden. The data also emphasize the importance of developing better prevention and treatment strategies.”
The researchers said there were several theories for the rise in allergy rates among children, including the idea that our home environments have become cleaner, leading to weaker immune systems as we are exposed to fewer germs.