Report: People of color are more prone to food allergies than white people

According to a new study, the rate of food allergies among Black people ties with the rate for Hispanics, with Asians a close second.

If you haven’t done so already, getting yourself screened for allergies might be a good idea. Food allergies are on the rise, and they are impacting Black people, Hispanic people, and Asian people the most. 

According to a new study published Wednesday by JAMA Network Open, people of color and people with lower incomes are more likely to have food allergies than white people and people with higher socioeconomic statuses.
Food allergies occur when exposure to a particular food triggers the immune system to attack the proteins in the food. According to CNN, more than 170 foods have been reported to cause allergic reactions.

Food allergies, Black people with food allergies, Black adults with food allergies, Black children with food allergies, Black health and wellness,
(Photo credit: Adobe Stock/New Africa)

The new study found that 10.6% of Black people, 10.6% of Hispanic people, and 10.5% of Asian people have food allergies. Asian and non-Hispanic white people had the lowest rates of severe food allergy reactions, and those with the lowest number of food allergies, 8.3%, lived in households that earned more than $150,000 per year.

Until now, studies on food allergies in people of color have mainly focused on children, said the study’s authors, per CNN. Looking at all ages, this study found notable differences across races and age groups in the types of foods people are allergic to. 

For instance, eggs and fin fish (tuna, halibut, and salmon) were the biggest triggers for Black children, while tree nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, and pistachios), were the biggest triggers for Black adults. The study also found that 50.6% of Black people of any age with food allergies were most likely to have numerous triggers. 

Meanwhile, tree nuts were the biggest triggers for Asian children, while shellfish and peanut allergies were the biggest triggers for Asian adults. Hispanic adults had the highest rates of allergies to hen’s eggs and fin fish. 

CNN further reports that food allergies, which roughly impact 11% of all adults and 8% of all children, are increasing. An earlier study found allergies increased in children by 50% between 1997 and 2011. According to the CDC, more than a quarter of US adults and children currently have at least one allergy.  

For now, there’s no clear explanation as to why. Dr. Mahboobeh Mahdavinia, an associate professor of medicine in the Department of Internal Medicine in the Division of Allergy & Immunology at Chicago’s Rush Medical College, told CNN it’s most likely not genetics.

“The majority of this is likely driven by the environment and the social [economic] factors that impact environments that people are born into and live in as adults,” Mahdavinia said. 

No matter the reason, the study’s authors are urging physicians to screen people of color for allergies. Dr. Ruchi Gupta, a co-author of the new study and the director of the Center for Food Allergy and Asthma Research, hopes her research will help avoid increasing disparity in care. 

“If an allergic reaction to food occurs, it’s really, really important to get that diagnosis and plan and then have access to these new treatments when they come out,” she said. “I don’t want to see these disparities grow.”

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