I was curious about the prevalence of food allergies here in Switzerland and Europe as a whole in comparison to the United States. Various researchers and organizations have looked at this issue, using different methods, age cohorts and time periods. This adds to the difficulty in comparing results and looking at trends over time. Overall, these data don’t seem to indicate a dramatic difference between the two countries. However, researchers have generally found growth in the proportion of children affected by food allergies and the severity of such allergies in recent years.
Here’s a quick summary of what I discovered with the caveat that I didn’t undertake an in-depth assessment of the methods used or the robustness of this research. I focused on identifying data from nationally-recognized entities and/or government-funded research.
Switzerland and Europe
- According to the aha! Swiss Allergy Center, 2-8 percent of the population in Switzerland has some type of food allergy. I haven’t yet come across food allergy prevalence data specific to children in Switzerland.
- The European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) recently found that hospital admissions throughout Europe for severe allergic reactions, such as anaphylaxis, in children increased 7-fold in the last 10 years. During this same time period, EAACI also reports that the number of food allergy suffers has doubled. This organization also has a new campaign designed to increase awareness of food allergies in Europe.
- The EuroPrevall project—which includes Switzerland as a partner nation—is currently examining the prevalence, cost and basis for food allergies. As part of this project, researchers examined 900 published studies and generally found that 1-5 percent of the total population has a clinically-proven food allergy.
The United States
- The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) estimates that food allergies affect approximately 4 percent of adults. In 2010, NIAID also reported that 1 in 20 young children under age 5 have some type of food allergy.
- A 2011 study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) found that approximately 8 percent of children younger than 18 years have at least one food allergy. This study also indicated that nearly 39 percent of children with food allergies had a history of “severe food-induced reactions.”
- In terms of growth, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that from 1997 to 2007, the prevalence of food allergies increased 18 percent among children under 18 years of age.
Increase in Food Allergies and Quality of Life
When I was growing up, to the best of my knowledge, none of my childhood classmates had severe food allergies. Today, a number of my friends have children with one or more food allergies, and these parents are invaluable resources for information and support. Therefore, these data support my own experiences and that of my peers—food allergies just seem more common nowadays.
Looking beyond the numbers, what I found most disturbing as a parent of a child with food allergies is that the 2011 AAP study cited past research associating food allergies with “impaired quality of life” and “limited social interactions.” While the increased prevalence of food allergies has made it easier for families like ours to manage our son’s multiple allergies, we still face challenges.
Luckily, my son will outgrow most, if not all of his allergies. We just have to be patient. In the meantime, I am constantly working to minimize the impact of food allergies on his daily life, so he can continue to enjoy nearly the same options and experiences as his older brother.
As such, future recipes here may include allergy-friendly baguettes and maybe even croissants or pain du chocolat (my husband may need to help with these…).