Around 2.4 million UK adults estimated to have food allergies, new study finds

Around 2.4 million UK adults estimated to have food allergies, new study finds

  • 16 May 2024
  • News

A major study by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has revealed that approximately 6% of the UK adult population, or around 2.4 million people, live with a clinically confirmed food allergy.

The Patterns and Prevalence of Adult Food Allergy (PAFA) report is one of the largest investigations into the prevalence of food allergies among adults in the UK. The research found that while over 30% of adults reported some types of adverse reactions when eating food, meaning they had an illness or trouble when eating a particular food, clinical assessments identified that around 6% have a confirmed food allergy triggered by their immune system.

The most common culprits for allergic reactions were found to be peanuts, tree nuts like hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds, as well as fresh fruits such as apples, peaches and kiwis. Many fruit allergies were linked to birch pollen allergies, also known as pollen-food allergy syndrome or oral allergy syndrome. Surprisingly, allergies to foods like milk, fish, shrimp and mussels were relatively uncommon among adults.

The study also revealed that while some food allergies persist from childhood into adulthood, around half of all adult food allergies develop later in life. This finding is significant as the food system shifts towards more plant-based diets and alternative proteins.

Professor Robin May, Chief Scientific Advisor at the Food Standards Agency, emphasised the importance of the PAFA report in understanding how food allergies evolve from childhood to adulthood and in identifying links between certain foods and the persistence of allergies.

“The FSA remains committed to ensuring clear and accurate allergen labelling to support people in the UK living with food allergies,” said Professor May. “This report will guide our future work on allergens to ensure everyone can enjoy food that is safe.”

Simon Williams, Chief Executive of the charity Anaphylaxis UK, regarding the findings of the PAFA report:

“The results of this landmark study highlight just how widespread and potentially severe food allergies are across the UK adult population. At Anaphylaxis UK, we hear daily from people whose lives are impacted by the serious risk posed by food allergens.

This report reinforces the vital need for better food allergen labelling, increased awareness and education around food allergies, and more research into prevention and treatment. We urge food businesses and policymakers to study these findings carefully and take action to protect those living with food allergies.

While the high prevalence is concerning, we’re encouraged that the PAFA report is shining a light on this important public health issue.”

The PAFA project involved a community survey in Manchester and two cohort studies from Manchester and the Isle of Wight. It was funded by the FSA and carried out in conjunction with the University of Manchester, Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, Amsterdam University Medical Centre, University of Southampton, and the Isle of Wight NHS Trust.

Read the full PAFA Report on the FSA website.