The Evolution of Food Allergies
In the span of 30 years, food allergies have changed tremendously. While now 32 million Americans have food allergies–where one in ten adults and one in thirteen children are food allergic (1,2)–with the publication of ground-breaking research and the increase in public awareness, the quality of life for individuals with food allergies has ultimately increased.
Just 30 years ago, the notion of a food allergy was not nearly as well known as it is today, nor did it receive much attention from researchers and other doctors. In fact, “many investigators did not consider the field [of food allergies] to be ‘a real science,” said Dr. Hugh A. Sampson at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (3). Today, however, there is much more extensive research on food allergies, where diagnostic tools have been refined and increased in accuracy, and management tools other than strict avoidance, such as oral immunotherapy (OIT), are becoming a reality (3). The understanding of food allergies has completely evolved in the past three decades and will continue to do so in the decades to come.
Personally, I have grown up experiencing the shift in attention to food allergies. When my older sister, now 20 years old, started pre-school, my mom had to meet with teachers at the school to educate them on the extent of her food allergies and how to handle them. The safety precautions in schools then were not nearly as adequate or beneficial as they are now. But in the past decade, amongst other actions, the CDC published voluntary guidelines for food allergy management for schools and early care and education programs (4). And, nearly every state has passed legislation to require epinephrine auto-injectors in K-12 schools (5). While the system is not perfect, the awareness of food allergies is much greater now, which helps ensure the safety of individuals with food allergies, particularly children and teenagers.
Researchers still have many unanswered questions and topics of interest to look into, such as understanding the effect of processing and additives on the development of food allergies and exploring the gut and skin microbiome and their correlation with allergies (3). However, the past 30 years have been a tremendous leap in progress to understand food allergies in the first place further. Witnessing this change has been fascinating and extremely beneficial as someone with food allergies, and with family and friends with food allergies, so I am excited to see what type of research comes out next!
Resources I used:
1) Gupta, Ruchi S et al. “Prevalence and Severity of Food Allergies Among US Adults.” JAMA network open vol. 2,1 e185630. 4 Jan. 2019, doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.5630
2) Gupta RS, Warren CM, Smith BM, et al. The Public Health Impact of Parent-Reported Childhood Food Allergies in the United States. Pediatrics. 2018:142(6):e20181235
3) Sampson, Hugh A. “Food Allergy: Past, Present and Future.” Allergology International, Elsevier, 6 Sept. 2016, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1323893016301137#!
4) “CDC National School Food Allergy Guidelines.” Food Allergy Research & Education, www.foodallergy.org/resources/cdc-national-school-food-allergy-guidelines.
“Access to Epinephrine.” Food Allergy Research & Education, www.foodallergy.org/resources/access-epinephrine.