cart Shopping Cart    You have 0 items   
Want to become a member?
Sign up here!

Allergy Today: New Zealand Study Finds High Rates of Food Allergies in Children


At Allergy New Zealand, we are committed to providing all New Zealand children and their families with the support they need to thrive and live full lives. We understand that coming together and sharing food is part of who we are and what we do. Yet, most information and advice provided on managing food allergy assumes a westernised lifestyle and diet, taking little account of New Zealand’s cultural diversity.

As a result, the burden of food allergy and food-induced anaphylaxis falls most heavily on some of our minority populations (evidence below). While there may be no current cure or approach to preventing food allergy, there is still much we can do.

We need a better understanding of the true prevalence of food allergy in New Zealand, and in particular, how prevalence rates differ between ethnicities. Next, we need to work together to explore what is needed to ensure all New Zealand children and their families feel free to safely participate in cultural activities that involve food and food practices. To achieve this, we will need more support.

For now, this is what the most recent research says:

Almost 1 out of 10 NZ children have a food allergy
Food allergies are alarmingly common in New Zealand children. According to the most recent Growing Up in New Zealand (GUINZ) data, 9 per cent of children at 8 years of age have a food allergy, as reported by their mother, with 67 per cent of them receiving a doctor’s diagnosis. Peanut, egg, tree nuts, milk, and wheat/gluten are the most commonly reported food allergies.

Higher rates of food allergy in certain populations
Food allergy is more common in Asian (13 per cent) and Pacific (10 per cent) children compared with European (eight per cent) and Māori (eight per cent). At the same time, Asian and Pacific children have higher rates of hospitalisations compared to European and Māori children for food-triggered anaphylaxis[1].

Why are our rates so high?
Data from the study showed that self-reported rates of food allergy were almost twice as much as we would expect in this age group[2]. Possible reasons for this could include: 
  • Delays in monitoring food allergy through food challenges in 2020, due to the COVID-19 lockdowns. This may have resulted in children missing out on tests to confirm whether they had outgrown their allergies.
  • Increased prevalence of allergies to peanuts, tree nuts and/or seafood, which are the food allergies children are less likely to outgrow.
While the study relies on self-reported rates of food allergy, which we would expect to result in higher prevalence rates than those using ‘the gold standard’ (i.e. oral food challenges)[3], the data gives us an indication of the number of New Zealand families managing food allergy and risk of anaphylaxis.

Where to from here:
  • We need more research into the prevalence of food allergies in New Zealand.
  • We also need an exploration of the differences in food allergy rates between different ethnicities. Studies in Australia have found a higher risk of food allergy in children born in Australia to Asian-born parents, than those of European descent. Researchers suggest this could be due to genetic factors associated with Asian heritage, which may lead to an increased risk of food allergy in infants exposed to a Western environment in early life. Is it possible this could also apply to children of Pacific heritage born in New Zealand.
The data reported here is from the GUINZ Now We are Eight report, published in November 2020.
The GUINZ longitudinal study started in 2009 with more than 6000 women in their last trimester of pregnancy. They were recruited from across the greater Auckland and Waikato regions. The study is run by the University of Auckland and has been following the lives of these children since before they were born. They reflect the ethnic and socioeconomic make-up of New Zealand today, and provide an accurate representation of the diverse experiences of our tamariki.
Reports published to date can be seen on Growing Up Reports | Growing Up in New Zealand
The Growing Up in New Zealand study will continue to connect with this cohort until the children grow into adulthood and are at least 21-years-old.

Penny Jorgensen, Allergy Advisor, Allergy New Zealand, and
Dr Samantha Marsh, PhD, and Board member of Allergy New Zealand

16 July 2021
Allergy Today

[1] Speakman et al, Paediatric food-induced anaphylaxis hospital presentations in New Zealand. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health (2017)
[3] The Epidemiology of Food Allergy in the Global Context. Wenyin Loh and Mimi L. K. Tang 2018