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Food allergies in developing and emerging economies: need for comprehensive data on prevalence rates.

Although much is known today about the prevalence of food allergy in the developed world, there are serious knowledge gaps about the prevalence rates of food allergy in developing countries. Food allergy affects up to 6% of children and 4% of adults. Symptoms include urticaria, gastrointestinal distress, failure to thrive, anaphylaxis and even death. There are over 170 foods known to provoke allergic reactions. Of these, the most common foods responsible for inducing 90% of reported allergic reactions are peanuts, milk, eggs, wheat, nuts (e.g., hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, etc.), soybeans, fish, crustaceans and shellfish. Current assumptions are that prevalence rates are lower in developing countries and emerging economies such as China, Brazil and India which raises questions about potential health impacts should the assumptions not be supported by evidence. As the health and social burden of food allergy can be significant, national and international efforts focusing on food security, food safety, food quality and dietary diversity need to pay special attention to the role of food allergy in order to avoid marginalization of sub-populations in the community. More importantly, as the major food sources used in international food aid programs are frequently priority allergens (e.g., peanut, milk, eggs, soybean, fish, wheat), and due to the similarities between food allergy and some malnutrition symptoms, it will be increasingly important to understand and assess the interplay between food allergy and nutrition in order to protect and identify appropriate sources of foods for sensitized sub-populations especially in economically disadvantaged countries and communities.

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