Food Allergies Facts and Statistics: What You Need to Know

Food allergies occur when the body mistakenly identifies a food as a threat, triggering an immune system response.

An estimated 26 million adults and 5.6 million children have food allergies. Food allergies in children increased by about 50% between 1997 and 2011.

This article highlights important facts and statistics you should know about food allergies.

Boy with peanuts

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Food Allergies Overview

A food allergy occurs when your immune system reacts to specific proteins in food, called allergens. Symptoms of a food allergy can range from a mild, itchy sensation inside the mouth to a life-threatening condition called anaphylaxis.

At this time, there is no cure for food allergies. The best way to manage the condition is by avoiding the food causing the allergy.

What Is Anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening reaction that can happen within minutes of exposure to a trigger food. Symptoms include trouble swallowing, vomiting, diarrhea, and difficulty breathing.

How Common Are Food Allergies?

Food allergies affect 1 in 13 children and 1 in 10 adults. Around 32 million people in the United States have a food allergy.

Over the past two decades, food allergies have increased, notably among children. Research shows that the prevalence of food allergies in children has increased by 1% to 2% per decade.

Each year, around 200,000 individuals seek emergency care due to allergic reactions caused by food. Moreover, medical procedures to treat anaphylactic food reactions increased by 377% from 2007 to 2016.

Food Allergies by Ethnicity

According to an analysis of epidemiological data, 2.9 million non-White children have a food allergy compared to 2.7 million White children. The prevalence of food allergies in children has increased at a rate of 2.1% per decade among Black children, 1.2% per decade among Hispanic children, and 1 % per decade among White children.

Black children are two times more likely than White children to have more than one food allergy. Black children also have significantly higher rates of fish allergies and shellfish allergies than White children.

Hispanic and Black children have higher rates of diet-induced anaphylaxis and emergency room visits than White children. This suggests these populations may experience more severe reactions compared to other ethnic groups.

One study also found that White adults have lower rates of food allergy than Hispanic adults, Asian adults, Black adults, and adults of biracial origin.

Food Allergies by Age and Gender

While most food allergies are first diagnosed in childhood, approximately 15% are diagnosed in adulthood.

In children under 18, boys are more likely to be diagnosed with food allergies than girls. However, the opposite is true for adults—females over 18 are more likely to be affected by food allergies. It is believed that sex hormones and differences in the microbiome may play a role in the development of food allergies in the two genders.

Different food allergies are associated with different ages. Milk allergies are common in children, followed by egg and peanut allergies. In contrast, adults are more likely to be affected by shellfish allergies, followed by allergies to peanuts and tree nuts.

Between 1997 and 2008, peanut and tree nut allergies more than tripled among children in the United States.

Causes of Food Allergies and Risk Factors

With food allergies, the immune system senses a certain food or something in the food as a harmful invader and overreacts, producing immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. These antibodies travel to cells where chemicals are released, triggering an allergic reaction.

Children with an existing food allergy are twice as likely to have other conditions, such as eczema or asthma, compared to those who do not have a food allergy. Studies show that early introduction to potential allergens can decrease the risk of a food allergy.

Other food allergy risk factors include:

  • Family history of food allergies or other allergies, such as asthma
  • Sex, in which boys are more likely to have food allergies
  • Ethnicity, in which Black children are at a greater risk of developing multiple food allergies compared to other ethnicities
  • Geographical eating habits and exposure to food allergens

The Most Common Food Allergies

These allergens make up 90% of allergic food reactions in the United States:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Wheat
  • Shellfish
  • Peanuts
  • Soybeans
  • Tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans)
  • Sesame

What Are the Mortality Rates for Food Allergies?

Although life-threatening and fatal reactions can occur from exposure to food allergens, it is rare. According to one study, less than 1 out of 100,000 people will die from a food allergy.

Not treating anaphylaxis quickly with epinephrine can increase the risk of mortality.


Routine screening for food allergies using a skin test or IgE blood test before a person ingests the allergen is generally discouraged. This is because there is a high risk of false-positive results.

Although testing is reliable when symptoms are present, reliability declines when the tests are used as a screening tool.

If you are reluctant to introduce certain foods to your child due to a family history of food allergies or any other reason, it is always a safe choice to see a certified allergist for proper testing and evaluation.


About 32 million people in the United States have food allergies. Children are more likely to develop milk, egg, and peanut allergies, whereas adults are more likely to have shellfish, peanut, and tree nut allergies. Genetics, a family history of allergies, ethnicity, and environmental factors all play a role in the development of food allergies. The best way to prevent life-threatening reactions is by avoiding trigger foods. Although routine screening is not advised, if you suspect you or your loved one has a food allergy, talk to a healthcare provider.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Lindsey DeSoto, RD, LD
Lindsey Desoto is a registered dietitian with experience working with clients to improve their diet for health-related reasons. She enjoys staying up to date on the latest research and translating nutrition science into practical eating advice to help others live healthier lives.