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Keywords:

  • Europe;
  • food allergy;
  • prevalence;
  • systematic review

Abstract

Allergy to cow's milk, egg, wheat, soy, peanut, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish constitutes the majority of food allergy reactions, but reliable estimates of their prevalence are lacking. This systematic review aimed to provide up-to-date estimates of their prevalence in Europe.Studies published in Europe from January 1, 2000, to September 30, 2012, were identified from searches of four electronic databases. Two independent reviewers appraised the studies and extracted the estimates of interest. Data were pooled using random-effects meta-analyses. Fifty studies were included in a narrative synthesis and 42 studies in the meta-analyses. Although there were significant heterogeneity between the studies, the overall pooled estimates for all age groups of self-reported lifetime prevalence of allergy to cow's milk, egg, wheat, soy, peanut, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish were 6.0% (95% confidence interval: 5.7–6.4), 2.5% (2.3–2.7), 3.6% (3.0–4.2), 0.4% (0.3–0.6), 1.3% (1.2–1.5), 2.2% (1.8–2.5), and 1.3% (0.9–1.7), respectively. The prevalence of food-challenge-defined allergy to cow's milk, egg, wheat, soy, peanut, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish was 0.6% (0.5–0.8), 0.2% (0.2–0.3), 0.1% (0.01–0.2), 0.3% (0.1–0.4), 0.2% (0.2–0.3), 0.5% (0.08–0.8), 0.1% (0.02–0.2), and 0.1% (0.06–0.3), respectively. Allergy to cow's milk and egg was more common among younger children, while allergy to peanut, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish was more common among the older ones. There were insufficient data to compare the estimates of soy and wheat allergy between the age groups. Allergy to most foods, except soy and peanut, appeared to be more common in Northern Europe. In summary, the lifetime self-reported prevalence of allergy to common foods in Europe ranged from 0.1 to 6.0%. The heterogeneity between studies was high, and participation rates varied across studies reaching as low as <20% in some studies. Standardizing the methods of assessment of food allergies and initiating strategies to increase participation will advance this evidence base.