Race Linked to Childhood Food Allergies, Not Environmental Allergies

February 23, 2013

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

DETROIT – Research conducted at Henry Ford Hospital shows that race and possibly genetics play a role in children’s sensitivity to developing allergies.

Researchers found:

  • African-American children were sensitized to at least one food allergen three times more often than Caucasian children.
  • African-American children with one allergic parent were sensitized to an environmental allergen twice as often as African-American children without an allergic parent.

The study was presented Saturday at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology annual meeting.

“Our findings suggest that African Americans may have a gene making them more susceptible to food allergen sensitization or the sensitization is just more prevalent in African American children than white children at age 2,” says Haejim Kim, M.D., a Henry Ford allergist and the study’s lead author. “More research is needed to further look at the development of allergy.”

Sensitization means a person’s immune system produces a specific antibody to an allergen. It does not mean the person will experience allergy symptoms.

According to an AAAI study from 2009-2010, an estimated 8 percent of children have a food allergy, and 30 percent of children have multiple food allergies. Peanut is the most prevalent allergen, followed by milk and shellfish.

The Henry Ford study consisted of a longitudinal birth cohort of 543 children who were interviewed with their parents and examined at a clinical visit at age 2. Data included parental self-report of allergies and self-reported race (African American or white/non-Hispanic). The children were skin-tested for three food allergens – egg whites, peanuts and milk – and seven environmental allergens.

Key findings:

  • 20.1 percent of African-American children were sensitized to an food allergen compared to 6.4 percent in Caucasian children.
  • 13.9 percent of African-American children were sensitized to an environmental allergen compared to 11 percent of Caucasian children.
  • African-American children with an allergic parent were sensitized to an environmental allergen 2.45 times more often than African-American children without an allergic parent.

The study was funded by Henry Ford Hospital and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.