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Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Five percent of U.S. adults report food allergy

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - More than 5 percent of U.S. adults may have food allergies, and many of them say food labels make it hard to protect themselves, according to a government study.

Using data from a national survey from 2001, researchers at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that 5.3 percent of U.S. adults said a doctor had diagnosed them with a food allergy.

Roughly half of these individuals were allergic to one or more of the eight most common food allergens: milk and other dairy foods; fish; eggs; crustaceans like lobster and shrimp; tree nuts such as walnuts; peanuts; soy; and wheat.

Others said they were allergic to some type of fruit or vegetable, chocolate, a food additive, or shellfish (which the law defines as separate from crustaceans).

When asked about any problems they had with reading food labels, 40 percent of those who regularly read labels reported some "serious" or "very serious" difficulty. Problems included manufacturers' use of vague terms, like "spice," and technical terms, such as casein instead of milk, or albumin instead of eggs.

Another issue was that food makers do not always make it clear when a new ingredient has been added to a product, though it is included on the ingredient list.

Katherine A. Vierk and her colleagues at the FDA report the findings in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Since the 2001 survey was taken, Congress passed a law requiring food makers to list, in plain English, any of the eight most common food allergens. That law, which went into effect in 2006, should address many of the concerns voiced in this survey, according to Vierk's team.

They say similar surveys can now be conducted to see whether the new label law has made managing food allergies any easier.

SOURCE: Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, June 2007.

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