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How Many Americans Actually Have Food Allergies? Fewer Than You Think, According To New Report

It seems like every day, more brands and restaurants are trying to be more accommodating to customers who have food sensitivities and allergies. That's not a bad thing, of course, because being inclusive of more people with dietary restrictions means more potential customers and more access for customers with allergies and other food sensitivities. But just how many Americans actually have food allergies? It's less than you might think, according to a new report.

According to The New York Times, a study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology recently concluded that just 3.6 percent of Americans — which is less than one in 25 — have at least one food allergy or intolerance. Earlier estimates found that a food allergy likely affected approximately 5 percent of adults and 8 percent of children, as also reported by the The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology and published on the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine's website.

According to The Times, this new study pulled from the electronic health records of 2.7 million adults and children who received care between the years of 2000 and 2013 at a large health system in the Boston, Massachusetts region. That's quite the statistical sample, and the results are definitely different than previous studies have come up with.

The Times reported that out of the 97,482 patients who had food allergies or intolerances, around half had symptoms like hives, vomiting or coughing. By comparison, close to 16 percent had more significant, "body-wide anaphylactic reactions."

Even if the number of American affected by food allergies in the newest study found is slightly lower than previous findings, being aware of these sensitivities is still extremely important, and further study is clearly needed into food allergies and their effects. The latest study, funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, stated in its conclusion summary that, "The spectrum of severity observed with food allergy highlights the critical need for more allergy evaluations." Essentially, more analysis is needed to further research the severity — and apparently, prevalence — of food allergies.

The study also found that women and Asians were the most affected by food allergies. And according to lead researcher Dr. Li Zhou, with the division of general medicine and primary care at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, the most common allergy was to shellfish, like shrimp and lobster. Bad news for the seafood industry, I guess.

The study also found that other common food allergies included fruits or vegetables, dairy and peanuts, according to CBS News. But the severity of these allergies differed. For example, Zhou said that only 1 in 5 patients with a peanut allergy received follow-up allergy testing necessary to determine the extent of their sensitivities.

Even though the number of Americans with food allergies is lower than previous estimates according to this new study, Zhou said that allergy rates actually increased among all patients each year between 2000 and 2013, according to the New York Times. And in particular, young children had higher rates of allergies than adults.

In other words, while actual data might yield lower numbers than previously thought, it's still important to be mindful of food allergies — because they're no laughing matter.