A recent study claims to be more accurate than past estimations.

shellfish most common food allergy
Credit: Daniel Kafalas / EyeEm / Getty Images

As those who suffer from food allergies can attest to, adverse reactions to food can have serious and sometimes even deadly effects. Over the years, the prevalence of digital media has help raise awareness and understanding of food allergies, but though the discussion surrounding food allergies has grown, a new study suggests that the number of people who actually suffer from these conditions might not be as high as previously thought.

According to a paper published last month in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, after looking at the electronic health records of approximately 2.7 million people from the Boston area who received health services between 2000 and 2013, researchers found that only 3.6 percent had a food allergy or intolerance. As the authors point out, that number is significantly less than a 2014 study, but more in line with some previous findings. “The prevalence of adverse reactions to food in the United States in 2014 was estimated to be 5% for adults and 8% for children, an increase from 2006 estimates (3% to 4% and 6%, respectively),” the study states.

So why should we believe these numbers over previous estimates? The researchers suggest that scouring electronic medical records allowed for a far larger sample size consisting of relatively reliable information. “Most studies reporting food allergy epidemiology use cross-sectional surveys, a method often limited by small sample size and selection bias,” the paper states. “Current electronic health record (EHR) systems in the United States contain an ‘allergy’ module in which health care providers document a patient’s adverse reactions to medications, foods, or environmental substances, including reactions reported by the patient or observed clinically. This module must include food allergies to ensure patient safety, especially for hospitalized patients.”

Overall, shellfish was found to be the most common food allergy, affecting nearly 1 percent of the population. Fruit or vegetable allergies were second, followed by dairy, peanut, tree nut, egg, grain, additives and fish. Interestingly, the research also found that women were more likely to have food allergies than men with 4.2 percent of females suffering from these issues compared to just 2.9 percent of males.

Needless to say, suggesting that less people have food allergies than previously thought isn’t meant to diminish the significance of the people who do have allergies. In fact, the authors hope that their findings could be used to help determine the epidemiology and risk factors for food allergies moving forward, as well as encouraging more evaluations for these allergies in general.

[h/t Forbes]