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August 23, 2017

Severe food allergy reactions shot up 377 percent in the last decade, analysis finds

Daily Briefing

Private insurance claims for an anaphylactic food reaction in the United States increased by more than 300 percent over the past decade, according to a FAIR Health analysis released Tuesday.

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Analysis details

The analysis is based on FAIR Health's database of more than 23 billion private insurance claims for dental and medical procedures for more than 150 million individuals. Researchers at FAIR Health analyzed the claims for individual procedures or services with diagnoses of anaphylactic food reactions from 2007 to 2016.


According to the analysis, the number of private insurance claims with a diagnosis of an anaphylactic food reaction grew by 377 percent from 2007 to 2016.

The researchers found that the most common foods causing anaphylaxis were:

  • Peanuts, which were cited in 26 percent of the claims;
  • Tree nuts and seeds, which were cited in 18 percent of the claims;
  • Eggs, which were cited in 7 percent of the claims;
  • Crustaceans such as shrimp and lobster, which were cited in 6 percent of the claims; and
  • Dairy, which was cited in 5 percent of the claims.

The researchers noted that private insurance claims for anaphylactic food reactions most commonly attributed the reaction to "other specific foods," which generally means it is not clear which specific good caused the anaphylaxis. However, they noted that such claims increased less from 2007 to 2016 than those associated with specific foods or food categories. According to the analysis, claims associated with "other specific foods" increased by 71 percent from 2007 to 2016, compared with a:

  • 603 percent increase in claims for anaphylactic reactions associated with tree nuts/seeds; and
  • 445 percent increase in claims for anaphylactic reactions associated with peanuts.

In terms of age groups, the researchers said the data suggests food allergies are more predominant among younger people, though older individuals also experienced severe allergic reactions to food. According to the analysis, individuals ages 18 and younger accounted for 66 percent of the claims, while individuals over age 18 accounted for 34 percent of the claims.

Further, the researchers found that although the number of claims with a diagnosis of an anaphylactic food reaction rose in both rural and urban areas, the increase was higher in rural areas, at 110 percent, than in urban areas, at 70 percent. According to the Journal, that finding appears to run counter to previous research that suggested childhood food allergies were more prevalent in urban areas.


James Baker, CEO and CMO of Food Allergy Research & Education, called the study "incredibly important," saying the "information suggests that not just the frequency of people having food allergy but the severity of food allergy in individuals has increased dramatically."

Hugh Sampson, director of the Icahn School of Medicine's Jaffe Food Allergy Institute, said the increase in food allergies could be tied to increases in cesarean sections, sterile environments, and antibiotic use—which he said all alter an individual's immune system. Sampson added, "The one thing that surprised me was the bigger change occurring in rural areas as opposed to urban areas."

FAIR Health President Robin Gelburd said, "I think a lot of people assume children grow out of these allergies, and the fact that we're seeing about a third of the claims attributable to those over 18-years-old is something that raises some interesting questions and invites some further study" (Reddy, Wall Street Journal, 8/21; FAIR Health release, 8/22).

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