Study: Black Children Have Higher Rates of Allergies Than White Children

Muna Hassan

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New research suggests that race plays a role in the prevalence of allergies.

A recent study from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago shows higher rates of shellfish and fish allergies in black American children than in white children.

Study authors say the data solidifies that race plays an important role in food allergies in children.

"Food allergy is a common condition in the U.S., and we know from our previous research that there are important differences between African American and white children with food allergy, but there is so much we need to know to be able to help our patients from minority groups," said Dr. Mahboobeh Mahdavinia, study co-author and chief of allergy and immunology at Rush University Medical Center.

In a news release from the medical center, Mahdavinia said,

"In this current paper, our goal was to understand whether children from different races are allergic to similar foods, or if there is a difference based on their racial background."

Key Findings: Black Children More Likely to Have Allergies

Published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, the current study included 664 children aged 12 and under. All participants had previously been diagnosed with a food allergy. Of the participants, 36% were Black and 64% were white.

The key finding from the research was that compared to white kids, black children are more likely to have an allergy to shellfish and fin fish. Additionally, black children are at increased risk of wheat allergy, according to researchers.

Study co-author Susan Fox is an allergy and immunology physician assistant at Rush.

"This information can help us care for not only a child's food allergy, but all of their allergic diseases, including asthma, allergic rhinitis [hay fever] and atopic dermatitis [eczema]."
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Cockroach Exposure Linked to Allergies

The researchers noted that exposure to cockroaches at a young age can increase the chances of shellfish and fin fish allergies in children. This is because cockroach exoskeletons contain the same protein that commonly causes shellfish allergies.

Additionally, poorer, inner-city neighborhoods have higher levels of cockroach-related allergens. Data shows that many black children live in these neighborhoods.

Reduction of cockroach exposure can be an important step toward reducing allergies in black children.

Increased Risk of Asthma

In addition to exposure to cockroaches, the study also noted that asthma was more prevalent in black children who also had food allergies compared to white children with allergies. Those with an allergy to shellfish were also at a higher risk of having severe asthma.

According to the authors of the study, 70% of deaths from severe allergic reactions to food are accompanied by asthma.

"African American children are at a two- to threefold risk of fatal anaphylaxis compared to white children," Mahdavinia said. "By knowing this information, it can identify most at-risk patients."
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Identifying Allergies in Children

Food allergies are, by definition, when the body reacts negatively against normally harmless proteins found in food. These reactions can be mild, but they can also be severe.

It's important for parents to know the symptoms of allergic reactions in order to ward against misdiagnoses.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the most common symptoms of of food allergies include the following:

  • Skin problems, such as hives, itchy skin rashes and swelling
  • Breathing problems, such as sneezing, wheezing and throat tightness
  • Stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Circulation symptoms, such as pale skin, light-headedness and loss of consciousness.

There are several illnesses that can be easily confused with food allergies. This includes food poisoning, drug effects, skin irritation and diarrhea.

You can learn more about food allergies from the AAP.

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Muna has been a journalist and fitness professional for more than 10 years. With degrees in exercise science and dietetics, Muna focuses on informing people about how to lead a healthier lifestyle. Muna is the owner of Body and Mind by Muna, an online gym for at-home workouts, as well as MuslimahFit, a fitness app for women.

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