Food Allergy Knowledge Found Lacking in General Public

From a ACAAI press release:

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill., July 24, 2009 – Food allergy knowledge in the general public is poor concerning the difference between food allergy and food intolerance, the absence of a cure, and current treatments according to a report published this month in Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, the scientific journal of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI).

“The public’s food allergy knowledge and awareness is critical to the safety of children with food allergy, especially since 76 percent of food allergy-related deaths follow consumption of foods outside of the home. Food allergy is a growing health concern, affecting an estimated 6 percent to 8 percent of children in the United States,” said Ruchi S. Gupta, M.D., of the Mary Ann & J. Wilburn Smith Children Health Research Program at Children’s Memorial Research Center in Chicago.

In a national sample of 2,148 adults who completed the validated Web-based Chicago Food Allergy Research Survey for the General Public, Dr. Gupta and colleagues found “the public’s knowledge was strongest regarding symptoms and severity of food allergy, with nearly 95 percent of participants recognizing food allergy as a potentially fatal condition.”

Among the misconceptions, investigators reported that “almost half of participants erroneously believed that a cure exists for food allergy, and more than two thirds stated that a daily medicine could be taken to prevent a food allergy reaction. They also tended to overlook the necessity of strict allergen avoidance: more than 40 percent of participants indicated that other means exist to prevent life-threatening reactions.”

Authors noted that nearly 85 percent of respondents agreed that schools should have plans to keep food-allergic children safe.

“Although there was agreement that schools need better policies to manage food allergies, most parents were not in favor of implementation of specific school policies, such as banning peanut products and having special tables for food-allergic children,” Dr. Gupta said.

Investigators conclude that “increased food allergy knowledge among the general public is needed, especially regarding the distinction between food allergy and food intolerance, current treatments available for food allergy, the absence of a cure, and the lack of preventative medications.”

“Although food allergy is a commonplace term, this study confirms the prevailing misconceptions among the public regarding manifestations, diagnosis, and treatment,” said Sami L. Bahna, M.D., Dr.P.H., professor of pediatrics & medicine, chief of Allergy & Immunology Section at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in Shreveport, La., and president-elect of ACAAI. “Appropriate diagnosis is the cornerstone for appropriate management. Also, exclusion of food allergy would direct the search to other causes of the patient’s illness. At present the treatment is basically strict avoidance of the causative foods. Research is underway for effective and safe immunotherapy.”

To the author’s knowledge, “this study is the first to provide detailed information about the general public’s food allergy knowledge and to characterize the general public’s attitudes and beliefs toward food allergy and food allergy policy.”


Patient information on allergic diseases including food allergy is available by calling the ACAAI toll free number at (800) 842-7777 or visiting its Web site at

The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI.) is a professional medical organization headquartered in Arlington Heights, Ill., that promotes excellence in the practice of the subspecialty of allergy and immunology. The College, comprising more than 5,000 allergists-immunologists and related health care professionals, fosters a culture of collaboration and congeniality in which its members work together and with others toward the common goals of patient care, education, advocacy and research.


Victoria Failla said…
I can definitely see a lack of knowledge in the general public! So many times I have gone out to eat and it takes several wait staff and managers until someone catches on! At the same time, in CT, I have noticed a huge bang in the nicer restaurants around here providing gluten free menus or labeling meals vegan! Yay!
Marty said…
I've been pleasantly surprised here in Montana-most of the waitstaff in restaurants seem to honestly want to help you avoid your allergens. Haven't seen any eyeball-rolling yet!
Jenny said…
I'm not surprised by these findings, especially how it relates to school kids. I understand parents not wanting a peanut ban, but why do they care if there is a peanut-free table??

I agree that more advocacy is needed because in my personal experience many people don't get 2 things: that food allergies can be fatal and that food allergies are relatively easy to manage if you avoid the allergenic foods.

Still, I mostly see compassion and a desire to help from the people I meet. Recently, one mom I know didn't serve her kids PB before they played with my daughter and I didn't even ask her to do that. That's progress in my book.

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