According to dismaying new research data, the rate of severe allergic reactions to foods in America has risen 377 percent in the last decade — a nearly fivefold jump. The numbers come from a new study by Fair Health, a nonprofit with access to 24 billion health-insurance claims filed by 150 million individuals. To get these allergy numbers, the group looked for claims where the diagnosis was anaphylaxis caused by food, a condition that can be life-threatening. Researchers discovered that not only are there more attacks now than ten years ago, but that almost a quarter of them occurred in 2016 alone, the most recent year for which data is available.
The most depressing part is that scientists aren’t sure what’s causing this proliferation — which is starting to snowball something fierce. They assume Americans’ overuse of antibiotics and tendency to rear babies in almost totally “sterile” environments have something to do with it, though, and say the uptick in C-sections, which can mess up babies’ microbiota, might also be partly to blame.
Doctors have reversed course and now tell parents to feed their kids peanuts and other scary “high-risk” foods before they reach six months to help blunt the allergic reactions, what you might call a let-them-roll-around-in-the-dirt philosophy toward diet. Research shows shellfish and peanut allergies are still the most likely foods to cause allergies, although peanuts were the most common cause of anaphylaxis in Fair’s analysis, comprising a quarter of all the claims. The study was a big bummer in another way, too: It backed up findings from earlier this month that suggest food allergies are getting worse in adults, too. The problem’s bigger now than something you get as a kid, and oftentimes outgrow. A large study published two weeks ago suggests half of Americans now develop a food allergy as an adult (or allergies, if they’re super unlucky). To that, Fair adds that a third of serious anaphylaxis claims were actually made by people over the age of 18.