Black male children are four times more likely to have food allergies: study

Mar 19

Black male children are at an especially high risk for developing food allergies, according to a new study presented Tuesday in Washington, DC, at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

They’re about four times as likely to be food allergic as the rest of the population, says Dr. Andrew Liu, a co-author of the study, which he says was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

“We know that children are more likely to have a food allergy,” says Liu, an associate professor at the National Jewish Medical Research Center in Denver. “And we know that people of black ethnicity tend to have a higher rate of food allergy.”

The survey was the first one in the U.S. in which researchers actually took blood samples and tested them for signs of potential food allergy, says Dr. Scott Sicherer, co-author of the study and professor of pediatrics at Mt. Sinai Medical Center. The study involved 8,203 participants who ranged in age from 1 to 85 and had a food sensitivity to egg, milk, peanut and shrimp. Blacks, males and children, especially black male children, were found to have higher levels of the immune responses associated with clinical food allergy, Liu explained.

“Further studies have to be done,” Sicherer says. “This group now has to be thought about a little bit extra by doctors.”

Researchers didn’t theorize about why black male children may have a higher rate of food allergy. Some experts feel that introducing a food too early in life sets up a child for food allergy. “But our understanding of early introduction is unclear,” Liu says. “There are other signs that early introduction could be protective. Clinical trials are underway now to try to determine whether introducing a food early can cause a food allergy.”

Liu says that the next step is exploring why black male children are so high-risk for food allergies. “We hope that this study raises awareness on some key issues, helps us identify the groups at risk, and then target groups for research and policy making.”

What causes food allergies in general isn’t clear, says Dr. Anatoly Belilovsky, a Brooklyn-based pediatrician and allergy expert.

“Some studies have shown that being on a farm has a protective effect against allergies,” he says. “We know that obese children tend to be more allergic.”

“There are many different theories,” says Dr. David Resnick, director of the Allergy Division at New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. “It could be environmental, or genetic, or a combination. We know that African Americans have higher asthma rates. More research is needed before you can make any conclusions.”

About 2.5 percent of the population has a food allergy, and peanut and shrimp are the most common allergens, Liu says.

Food allergies aren’t necessarily a lifelong sentence. Many kids outgrow their allergies to wheat, soy and milk, Resnick says. A young child with a peanut allergy has a 20 percent chance that he will outgrow the allergy, but there’s only a 10 percent chance that he will outgrow a tree nut allergy, Resnick says.

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