Peanut butter, toast and a glass of milk seem like a typical meal for a child. But for some children, that combination can lead to a potentially deadly food allergy episode. Now a new study is revealing the cost of childhood food allergies, and it amounts to $25 billion each year in the United States, reported Health magazine on September 17.
The sum reflects medical costs, family expenses and missed work, say researchers. Although it might seem as if the actual healthcare costs were the most significant, the study revealed that families bear significant financial burdens due to allergen-free foods and special diets.
To conduct their study, the researchers consulted more than 1,600 caregivers of children with food allergies. The most common allergies were:
- peanut (about 29 percent)
- milk (22 percent)
- shellfish (19 percent).
The study showed that annual food-allergy-related costs came to almost $4,200 per child, resulting in $24.8 billion a year nationwide. Included in that national total are $4.3 billion in direct medical costs and $20.5 billion in costs to families.
“In summary, childhood food allergy in the United States places a considerable economic burden on families and society,” said study author Dr. Ruchi Gupta, of the Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and colleagues. “Given these findings, research to develop an effective food allergy treatment and cure is critically needed.”
While hospitalizations accounted for the largest amount of direct medical costs, at $1.9 billion, families also had to bear the high cost of outpatient visits to allergists, which came to $819 million. Unanticipated emergency-room visits were $764 million, while families paid $543 million for pediatricians. And to handle all the time needed for the medical care, parents and other caregivers lost work time, amounting to $773 million a year.
In addition, because allergen-free foods tend to be higher, families paid $1.7 billion a year for the special diet products that their children needed, according to the study.