Eight percent of American children suffer from peanut allergies, tree nut allergies, dairy allergies, egg allergies, and allergies to other foods. According to a study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, the care and treatment of these ailments costs nearly $25 billion a year.
Dr. Ruchi Gupta, a pediatrician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and a professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, led the research that surveyed more than 1,600 parents with at least one child with a food allergy.
The study found that direct medical expenses for the participating children, including trips to the doctor, hospital stays, and emergency room visits, cost a total of $4.3 billion; buying special foods, placing kids in allergy-sensitive schools or allergy-free child care centers cost another $5.5 billion; and the loss of productivity for parents, parents who stayed out of the workforce or otherwise restricted their careers to care for their allergic child added up to another $14 billion.
Even after subtracting costs covered by insurance, the total was still over $20 billion per year.
Parents “often need to be at school, social events, or camp to educate and affirm the seriousness of their child’s condition,” the researchers noted in their report. “In case of an emergency, caregivers may not be able or willing to take a job that requires travel or many hours away from their child.” Estimates suggest that between 150 and 200 people (children and adults) die each year from food allergies in the U.S.
When asked how much they would be prepared to spend on a medicine to theoretically cure their child with a food allergy, the parents came up with a number surprisingly close to the total the researchers found.
This study is the first to try to put a price tag on the condition that affects a growing number of families every year.