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Kids With Food Allergies From Low-Income Families Suffer Highest Medical Costs

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A family's income plays a huge role in a child's well-being. For example, those in low-income neighborhood suffer most of the economic impact of food allergies.

Food allergy is one of the most common conditions affecting children in the United States. More than 5 million of them are diagnosed with more than one type of food allergen, and over 40 percent of them are more likely to develop life-threatening reactions such as anaphylaxis.

However, children whose family income is low, that is, less than $50,000 year, are at risk of developing more allergies than their affluent counterparts. Worse, they are also less likely to receive the necessary treatment or preventive measures.

U.S. researchers led by Dr. Ruchi Gupta, a pediatrics associate professor at Northwestern University, conducted a cross-sectional analysis of data from 1,643 caregivers with a child who's allergic to at least one type of food. The participants were asked to complete a computer-based survey about the associated health care costs due to the children's food allergies.

Using a regression model, they were able to determine that low-income families end up spending 2.5 times more than the high-income families in terms of hospitalization and emergency department costs.

Although small, the differences between spending on specialists and pediatricians remain significant for the two income classes. Low-income families may pay about $123 on pediatricians and $228 on specialists while high-income ones incur $103 and $311, respectively.

There's also a huge disparity when it comes to out-of-pocket costs, which tend to be directly proportional to income. While those in the highest-income strata spend $366, lowest-income ones pay about $171.

"These results suggest that children in lower-income families may be at a higher risk for accidental ingestions and anaphylaxis because they have less access to specialty care, allergen-free foods, and emergency medications such as epinephrine autoinjectors," said the study.

A typical epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen) can cost at least $30, but Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), which also supported the study, recommends carrying two. There are co-pay and savings cards programs, but so far, they are extended until 2016.

These challenges may mean that "poor people may therefore be experiencing more food allergy reactions," said Gupta.

Prevention is one of the most effective ways to deal with food allergies particularly among children. The research then suggests improving access of non-allergic food and epinephrine.

The study, which also highlights ethnic disparities in relation to food allergies, is now available online on Pediatrics

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