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Incidence of food allergies spikes among black children

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Food allergies are on the rise, but in no demographic more so than young black children, with numbers thought to be reaching twice that of white children. 

Data on 452,437 children was collated from the period between 1988 and 2011, with the incidence of allergies in non-Hispanic black children rising 2.1 percent in that time, compared to Hispanic children at 1.2 percent, and non-Hispanic white children jumping just one percent. 

The study, titled Temporal trends and racial/ethnic disparity in self-reported pediatric food allergy in the United States, was published in the Monday's edition of the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Though the spike in self-reported allergies is clear, it remains to be seen if the increase is a result of environmental factors or better recognition of symptoms. 

Dr. Corinne Keet, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins and author of the study, noted that the increase is limited to more recent years, rather than a steady rise from the beginning of the study. She also stressed the importance of not reading into food intolerances as allergies. "Our research found a striking food allergy trend that needs to be further evaluated to discover the cause. Although African Americans generally have higher levels of IgE -- the antibody the immune system creates more of when one has an allergy -- it is only recently that they have reported food allergy more frequently than white children," said Keet. "It is important to note this increase was in self-reported allergy. Many of these children did not receive a proper food allergy diagnosis from an allergist. Other conditions such as food intolerance can often be mistaken for an allergy, because not all symptoms associated with foods are caused by food allergy."

A separate study, also published in Annals on Monday, suggests that allergists can often gauge which children will have lifelong allergies and, conversely, which children will likely grow out of similar sensitivities. 

Ultimately, though, the lesson is the same for all children with suspected food allergies - undergo formal testing, and exercise caution. "If you think you have symptoms of a food allergy, you should see an allergist for proper testing, diagnosis and treatment," said Annals editor and allergist Marshall Gailen, MD. "You should never take matters into your own hands, whether it is self-treating your allergy or introducing an allergenic food back into your diet to see if you're still allergic."

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