Allergy statistics from the EAACI: 17 million Europeans allergic to food; allergies in children doubled in the last 10 years

The European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) held a two-day conference exclusively dedicated to food allergies and anaphylaxis for the first time.

• About 17 million Europeans suffer from food allergies, with 3.5 million of them less than 25 years of age.
• The number of children with allergies has doubled in the last ten years, and visits to A&E have increased seven-fold.
• The prevalence of allergies in children varies from 1.7% in Greece to 4% in Italy and Spain, to over 5% in France, UK, Netherlands and Germany.
• The allergens also vary over the continent: in continental Europe the most common food allergies are to fresh fruit and vegetables, whilst in Anglo-Saxon countries hazelnuts, peanuts and walnuts are the most problematic. Allergy to fish and shellfish prevails in Scandinavia and Northern Europe.
• Sixty percent of allergic patients are women, which the scientists suggest is probably because of biological and psychological factors.

Professor Maria Antonella Muraro, Chair of the EAACI meeting suggests that the lack of exposure to potential allergens since childhood may have left us with under prepared immune systems that have developed inappropriate responses to food proteins.

There are millions of people for whom even going to a restaurant can be fatal, if a trace of hazelnut lingers in a pudding, or a little bit of cheese fell into a sauce – a heavy burden for anyone to bear, let alone children whose lifestyles must be severely and frustratingly curbed to avoid all these potential hazards.

Professor Muraro says that allergic reactions are probably increasing due to a change in nutrition patterns and lifestyle, and exposure to pollutions like cigarette smoke. As for why women are more prone to allergy, one hypothesis suggests that oestrogen increases women’s vulnerability to diseases affecting the immune system.

All the latest figures and scientific findings on allergy and anaphylaxis were discussed at the meeting attended by over 600 top health experts including allergists, paediatricians, internationally renowned clinicians, patient organisations and key members of the food industry. It took place in Venice, Italy on the 17-19th February 2011.

Source: EAACI (The European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology)

First published in February 2011

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