Food Allergies Around the World

We’ve discussed the Top 8 Allergens which account for 90% of all food allergies. These allergens are the main offenders in the US, but there are certain food allergies that are unique to certain regions of the world. EuroPrevall was a global research project funded by the European Union that looked at food allergy prevalence and patterns among various countries around the world. EuroPrevall revealed that there are major differences in the common food allergies that are seen in different countries.

The main theory behind these differences is that people seem most likely to develop a food allergy to the foods that are most commonly eaten in their region. Milk and eggs are common foods worldwide, so it’s not surprising that these are two of the most universally frequent food allergies (mostly in children).

However, different regions have unique cuisines that are influenced by their geographical locations and their cultural history. As a result, there are some notable variations in food allergy trends around the world.

Let’s look at some examples of specific food allergies that vary around the world.

  • Seafood Allergy: Fish allergy is more common in countries where fish consumption is high, such as Scandinavia, Norway, Portugal and Japan. Shrimp allergy is fairly common in Iceland and Spain ,but almost non-existent in Bulgaria and Poland.
  • Sesame Allergy: Sesame allergy is not one of the Top 8 Allergens in the US. However; it is common in Israel, where sesame consumption is high[1]. In fact, milk, egg and sesame are the 3 most common food allergies among children in Israel and, second to milk, sesame is the second leading cause of anaphylaxis in Israeli children[2].
  • Rice Allergy: Rice allergy is rare in most countries and is usually considered one of the foods that is least likely to cause an allergic reaction in the US. That’s why rice cereal is usually a first food we’re introduced to as infants. However, rice allergy is fairly common in countries of Eastern Asia, where rice is commonly eaten, like Japan. People who are allergic to rice can have an allergic reaction when they consume rice or when they inhale rice pollen.
  • Peanut Allergy: Peanut allergies are quite common in the western countries such as the US, the UK and Israel, but fairly rare in others. For example, in Greece peanut allergies are almost non-existent. This may be partly due to different rates of peanut consumption among different countries. However, consumption trends can’t completely explain the differences in the rates of peanut allergies. Although peanut consumption is very high in Indonesia and parts of Africa, these areas have an extremely low incidence of peanut allergy.

    There is even variation among the characteristics of peanut allergies in different countries[3]. A study on peanut allergies among children in the US, Spain and Sweden found that there are some differences in the characteristics of peanut allergy between countries. In the US, peanut allergy usually starts in the first year of life whereas children in Sweden and Spain usually develop a peanut allergy at two years or older. The study also found that children from the three different countries react to different components of peanut proteins.

Pollen’s Role:

Certain pollen types may influence the foods which someone is allergic to. For example, an allergy to birch pollen can cause a cross reaction to proteins in apples or hazelnut. Therefore, allergies to apples and hazelnut are more common in geographical areas where birch pollen is abundant.

Allergy Trends: A Product of Genetics and Environment

Scientists are still unsure of what exactly leads to the development of food allergies. It is theorized that the development of food allergies is influenced by infant feeding habits, environmental factors and of course, genetics. Early exposure to commonly consumed foods and inhaled allergens in a certain region are likely to play a strong role.

I had never thought about how geography and culture might affect food allergy trends so I found this topic especially interesting. I hope you found it interesting too!

– Mallory West

[1]> Aaronov D, Tasher D, Levine A, Somekh E, Serour F, Dalal I. Natural history of food allergy in infants and children in Israel. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2008 Dec;101(6):637-40.
[2] Dalal I, Binson I, Reifen R, Amitai Z, Shohat T, Rahmani S, Levine A, Ballin A, Somekh E. Food allergy is a matter of geography after all: sesame as a major cause of severe IgE-mediated food allergic reactions among infants and young children in Israel. Allergy. 2002 Apr;57(4):362-5.
[3] Vereda A, van Hage M, Ahlstedt S, Ibañez MD, Cuesta-Herranz J, van Odijk J, Wickman M, Sampson HA. Peanut allergy: Clinical and immunologic differences among patients from 3 different geographic regions. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2011 Mar;127(3):603-7. Epub 2010 Nov 18.
Published: 04/05/2011
Rob McCandlish
Thanks for your comment Leonard! Yes, there seem to be genetic components of food allergies that can be inherited from either parent, not just the mother. On top of that, there are associations for food allergies between first-degree relatives that extend beyond the influences of genes into environmental factors. Developed countries in general have seen an increase in food allergies and allergic disorders in recent decades.
Leonard Sadauskas
I am a 79 year old male from Lithuania and now live in the US. During my childhood I never heard of food allergies amongst my friends when we lived in Germany nor when we emigrated to Canada and later to the USA. Nor do any of my 3 children have food allergies. However my two sons married women who do and now two of my grandchildren are afflicted. There maybe a genetic component that is passed from the mother.
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