Black Male Children Particularly at Risk for Food Allergies

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By: Madeline Ellis
Published: Wednesday, 18 March 2009

 “One man’s food is another man’s poison.” For instance, most of us wouldn’t think twice about munching on peanuts while cheering for our favorite football team, while for others a mere whiff of just the peanut powder could evoke a life-threatening reaction. Why some people are allergic to certain foods and others are not is still a grand puzzle, but scientists have found that having a family history of allergies increases the risk of having them.

Children born to parents who have no allergies have only a 10-15 percent chance of having one, but children with one parent who has food allergies have a 30-40 percent of developing one. If both parents have food allergies, the children have a 75 percent chance of having food allergies. Food allergies have also developed in response to excessive exposure to a particular food. In Japan, where rice is a staple, rice is a common food allergen; in Scandinavia, the common allergen is codfish; and in India, chickpeas. But a recent study suggests there may be other determining factors—such as being young, black, and male.

For the study, Dr. Andrew H. Liu and colleagues analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2005-2006 which included 8,203 people ranging in age from 1 to 85. Each tested positive for the allergen antibody (lgE) linked to reactions with eggs, milk, peanuts and shrimp. Based on their findings, approximately 2.55 percent of the general population has food allergies, most often to shrimp and peanuts. However, the odds were much greater among blacks, males and children.

Males and children had double the risk of food allergies, blacks had triple the risk, and black children were four times more likely to develop food allergies. Those at the highest risk for food allergies were black male children.

In addition, children, males, non-Hispanic blacks and persons of lower income were more likely to have food sensitivities, adverse food-induced reactions that do not involve the immune system. About 17 percent of the participants had food sensitivities, again with peanut and shrimp being the most common—4 percent were sensitive to eggs, 6 percent to shrimp or milk, and 8 percent to peanuts. 

Allergic reactions to food vary from person to person and can include a tingling sensation in the mouth, swelling of the tongue and the throat, difficulty breathing, hives, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, drop in blood pressure, loss of consciousness, and even death. Symptoms typically occur within a few minutes or up to a few hours after contact with the food. Over 140 different foods have been identified as causes of allergic reactions, but 90 percent of all food-allergic reactions are credited to milk and other dairy products, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts and tree nuts, fish and shellfish.

This study was presented during the 2009 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) on March 13-17 in Washington, D.C.


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