Why are food allergies on the rise, and what can we do about it?

food allergy vs intolerance

More of the population has food allergies than ever before – and around the world, they are sending more and more people to hospital. One large-scale review of hospital admissions data found anaphylaxis cases on the rise in the US, Australia and Europe, among other regions. In the US, hospital visits for food allergy increased threefold from 1993 to 2006. Between 2013 and 2019, England saw a 72% rise in the number of hospital admissions for children caused by anaphylaxis, from 1,015 admissions to 1,746.

“That food allergies have risen is unquestionably the case, to an absolutely crazy extent,” says Graham Rook, emeritus professor of medical microbiology at University College London.

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One theory behind the rise has been that we’re simply more aware of food allergies. But Kari Nadeau, a Stanford University allergy specialist who calls the rise an “epidemic” in her new book The End of Food Allergy, says this isn’t the case. “It’s not just because we’re getting better at diagnostics, because we’re actually not,” she says. “We are becoming more aware of it, but that’s not increasing the diagnosis.”

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It’s difficult, however, to pinpoint just how much food allergies have risen. Three to four times as many people think they have a food allergy as actually do, making self-reported data difficult to trust. Much of this is because food intolerance and food allergy can be confused.

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