One in 12 children in the US may have a food allergy, with more than a third of those having severe allergies.
The study, published in Pediatrics, also showed that allergies were more common in minority children.
"What I hope this paper will do is open this awareness to how common (food allergy) is and how severe it can be, and develop policies for schools and sporting events and any activities that kids participate in to make it clear that everybody is looking out for these kids," said lead author Ruchi Gupta.
Previous studies have estimated that anywhere between 2 and 8% of children in the United States has a food allergy
, but most of these were studies that asked participants many different health questions, with allergies only one of many concerns, Gupta said.
Other studies have looked at emergency room trips
for allergic reactions, or evaluated doctors' diagnoses in records.
But Gupta and her colleagues wanted to design a study focused solely on the rate and severity of food allergies. They surveyed a nationally representative sample of almost 40,000 U.S. adults who lived with a child under 18.
Those adults filled out an online questionnaire about allergies based on a single child in their household, reporting whether or not the child had any signs or symptoms of a food allergy, had ever been diagnosed with an allergy by a doctor, and had ever had a severe allergic reaction to food.
The results showed that 8% of children, almost 6 million, had a diagnosed food allergy or convincing symptoms that indicated an allergy. The most common ones were peanuts
, milk and shellfish.
"One of our big findings was that 2 in 5 kids who had allergies had a severe reaction or a life-threatening reaction," she added.
Severe reactions were more common in older children, possibly because young children with allergies are more likely to be monitored by parents to make sure they stay away from potential allergy triggers.
Gupta and her colleagues also found that black and Asian children had higher chances of having a food allergy than white children, but that they were less likely to have that allergy diagnosed by a doctor.
Gupta said that food allergies were becoming more frequent, but added that researchers weren't sure why. Gupta said perhaps there might be something in the environment driving the increase.
Does your child have any allergies?