Study estimates economic impact of childhood food allergies

The overall cost of childhood food allergies was estimated at nearly $25 billion annually in a study of caregivers that quantified medical, out-of-pocket, lost work productivity and other expenses, according to a report published by JAMA Pediatrics.

Food allergy is a growing public health issue in the United States that affects about 8 percent of children. The condition results in significant medical costs to the but also inflicts substantial costs on families, including special diets and allergen-free foods, according to the study.

Ruchi Gupta, M.D., M.P.H., of the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago and the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, and colleagues, surveyed 1,643 caregivers of a child with a . The most common food allergies were peanut (28.7 percent), milk (22.3 percent) and shellfish (18.6 percent).

Overall food allergy costs were $24.8 billion annually or $4,184 per child, according to the results. Total costs included $4.3 billion in direct medical costs and $20.5 billion in annual costs to families.

Caregivers estimated that hospitalizations accounted for the largest proportion of direct ($1.9 billion), followed by outpatient visits to allergists ($819 million), emergency department visits ($764 million) and pediatrician visits ($543 million). Special diets and -free foods were estimated to cost $1.7 billion annually, while annual lost labor productivity so caregivers could accompany their children to medical visits was $773 million, according to the results.

"In summary, childhood food allergy in the United States places a considerable economic burden on families and society. … Given these findings, research to develop an effective food allergy treatment and cure is critically needed," the study concludes.

More information: JAMA Pediatr. Published online September 16, 2013. DOI: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.2376

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