Are Genes the Reason Why Black Children Have More Food Allergies?

Black youth is three times more likely to suffer. 

Posted: 03/01/2013 09:24 AM EST

It’s not a secret that African-American children are more likely than white or Latino children to be allergic to foods such as peanuts, soy, milk or shellfish. But why is that the case?

Environmental pollutants have been blamed, but a new study presented last week at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology annual meeting, suggests that race and genetics may also be factors as well. Researchers from Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit followed 543 children from birth until they were two years old and found that African-American children were three times more likely than white children to have food allergies.  

But interesting enough, they also found that African-American kids with a parent with a food allergy were 2.5 times more likely to have food allergies compared to African-American kids without a parent with a food allergy.

So can we inherit allergies like eye color?

Haejim Kim, M.D., the study’s author believes that it’s possible. She stated in a hospital press release, "Our findings suggest that African-Americans may have a gene making them more susceptible to food allergen sensitization or the sensitization is just more prevalent in African-American children than white children at age 2."

But she admits that more work needs to be done in order for the medical community to know for sure.

Now, in terms of being allergic to environmental allergens such as dander and pollen the racial disparity wasn’t as large. Kim and her colleagues found that 13.9 percent of Black children were allergic compared to 11 percent of white children.

Food allergies are a serious growing health issue. A 2011 study found that there are 5.9 million children in the U.S. with a life-threatening food allergy. And while food allergies don’t seem like a serious health concern, they are. According to Mayo Clinic, symptoms can be mild including swelling of the lips, hives, itching, vomiting, abdominal pain, dizziness, fainting and wheezing. A serious reaction can cause anaphylaxis, which can include a dangerous drop in blood pressure, tightening of the airways, rapid pulse unconsciousness and even death.

If a loved one is going to anaphylaxis shock, call 911 immediately.

Learn more about food allergies at cdc.gov.

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(Photo: GettyImages)

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