Objective: A population study was performed to identify the prevalence of all kinds of adverse reactions to food.
Methods: In a representative cross-sectional survey performed in 1999 and 2000 in Berlin, 13 300 inhabitants of all ages were addressed by questionnaire. This questionnaire was answered by 4093 persons. All respondents mentioning any sign of food intolerance or the existence of allergic diseases (n = 2298) were followed up by telephone and, in case food intolerance could not be ruled out by patient history, were invited to attend to the clinic for personal investigation including double-blind, placebo-controlled food challenge tests (DBPCFC).
Results: The self-reported lifetime prevalence of any adverse reaction to food in the Berlin population (mean age 41 years) was 34.9%. Eight hundred and fourteen individuals were personally investigated according to the guidelines. The point prevalence of adverse reactions to food confirmed by DBPCFC tests in the Berlin population as a mean of all age groups was 3.6% (95% confidence interval [3.0–4.2%]) and 3.7% in the adult population (18–79 years, 95% confidence interval [3.1–4.4.%]). Two and a half percent were IgE-mediated and 1.1% non-IgE-mediated, females were more frequently affected (60.6%). Based on a statistical comparison with available data of adults from the nationwide German Health Survey from 1998, adverse reactions to food in the adult population of Germany (age 18–79) were calculated with 2.6% [2.1–3.2%]).
Conclusions: The study gives for the first time information about the point prevalence of both immunological and nonimmunological adverse reactions to food and underlines the relevance of this issue in public health. The data also show that an individualized stepwise approach including provocation tests is mandatory to confirm the diagnosis.