Around 6% of the UK adult population have a food allergy, new report from the Food Standards Agency finds

News 17.05.2024

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 report experiencing symptoms of food hypersensitivity, clinical assessments identified that around 6% have a confirmed food allergy triggered by their immune system.

Most common allergies

The most common foods to cause 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 amongst 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 Adviser 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.”

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.

The full report can be found here.