September 22, 2013
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Expenses substantial for caregivers of food allergic children

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Childhood food allergies cost nearly $25 billion annually to caregivers for medical, out-of-pocket, lost work productivity and other expenses, according to recent study findings published in JAMA Pediatrics.

“Direct medical costs to the health care system stem from office visits, rescue medications, ED visits, and hospitalizations,” the researchers wrote. “Costs borne by families include medical and nonmedical expenses, specifically out-of-pocket, lost productivity, and opportunity costs.”

The cross-sectional survey included 1,643 US caregivers of children with food allergies from Nov. 28, 2011, to Jan. 26, 2012.

Researchers found food allergies resulted in an estimated $4.3 billion, or $724 per child annually, for direct medical costs. Hospitalizations were the highest medical cost ($1.9 billion) followed by outpatient visits to allergists ($819 million), ED visits ($764 million) and pediatrician visits ($543 million). Caregiver loss for labor productivity for taking their child to medical visits results in an estimated $773 million, or $130 per child. Caregiver time attending allergist visits were the highest area of loss ($318 million) followed by pediatrician visits ($165 million) and ED visits ($149 million). Caregiver out-of-pocket costs for children with food allergy totaled $5.5 billion, or $931 per child. Cost of special diets and allergen-free foods was the highest out-of-pocket costs (estimated $1.7 billion) followed by additional or changes in child care (estimated $857 million) and changes in schools (estimated $650 million).

”Discuss not only the medical aspects of food allergy, how to recognize signs and symptoms, how and when to administer the epinephrine auto injector, but also the large social aspect,” Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, director of the program for maternal and child health at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine told Infectious Diseases in Children. “The need to read labels and be vigilant about avoiding the allergen, communication with schools, sitters, and friends, all of this takes extra time and comes with costs.”

Disclosure: The study was funded in part by Food Allergy Research Education.

Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, can be reached at Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine, Center for Health Care Studies, 420 East Superior Street, 10th Floor, Chicago, IL 60611; email: r-gupta@northwestern.edu.