Who Has Food Allergies?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last Reviewed: March 2022

It can be hard to track exact numbers of people with a food allergy. This is because when asked, many people confuse a food intolerance with a true food allergy.1

True food allergies affect about 32 million people in the United States. Roughly 10 out of every 100 adults and 7 out of every 100 children have 1 or more food allergies. Many more people are sensitive to a certain food but are not allergic. This is called a food intolerance.1-3

A food allergy means the immune system reacts to a food in ways that impact many organs in the body. Symptoms may vary from mild to life-threatening. With a food intolerance, symptoms are usually milder and limited to digestive issues.2

One study of more than 40,000 U.S. adults found nearly 20 percent believed they had a food allergy. However, research shows only half that many do. Food allergies are more common in women than men.3

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Most common food allergies

Any food has the potential to cause an allergic reaction, but 8 types of food cause about 90 percent of all reactions. The most common food allergies in the United States are:3,4

  • Shellfish (8.2 million)
  • Milk (6.1 million)
  • Peanuts (6.1 million)
  • Tree nuts (3.9 million)
  • Eggs (2.6 million)
  • Fin fish (2.4 million)
  • Wheat (2.4 million)
  • Soy (1.9 million)
  • Sesame (0.7 million)

Adults versus children with food allergies

About half of adults with a food allergy develop that allergy as an adult. The other half have been living with their food allergy since childhood. About 4 out of 10 children with a food allergy are allergic to more than 1 food.3,4

Research shows many kids with food allergies outgrow them, especially those allergic to milk, eggs, wheat, and soy:4

  • 8 out of 10 children allergic to milk, wheat, or soy outgrow that allergy
  • 2 out of 3 children allergic to eggs outgrow that allergy

On the other hand, allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, and fish tend to be lifelong.4

The number of children with food allergies has dramatically increased since 1997.4

Racial and geographic differences in food allergies

Doctors have found some racial differences in who has allergies. For example, Black children are at greater risk of developing a food allergy than white children. Overall, those most likely to have food allergies are mixed race, Asian, Black, Hispanic, and then white people.3,4

People living in Western states have higher rates of food allergies, followed by the Northeast, South, and Midwest.3

Food allergies and other conditions

When someone has more than 1 health issue, those additional conditions are called comorbidities. Comorbid means both conditions exist at the same time. The most common comorbidities in people with food allergies are:3

  • Latex allergy
  • Chronic hives (urticaria)
  • Insect sting allergy
  • Asthma
  • Eczema (atopic dermatitis)
  • Drug allergies
  • Environmental allergies

Children with a food allergy are 2 to 4 times more likely to have other allergic conditions, such as asthma or eczema.3