Have we become a nation obsessed with food allergies?
Apparently so, according to a recent study, which found that while 19 percent of adults in the U.S. think they have a food allergy, in reality, only 10.8 percent actually have one.
The study, published earlier this month in the online journal JAMA Network Open, found that even fewer people, only 1 in 20, have received an actual diagnosis for a food allergy by a physician.
While the study also suggested that food allergies may be more prevalent among adults than previously thought, it also showed the striking number of people who point to that slice of bread or piece cheese for an answer.
During the study, researchers asked about 40,500 adults in the U.S. about their food allergies and then assessed whether the symptoms they had reported were “convincing” — meaning they lived up to standard criteria of an actual food allergy: throat tightening, vomiting, hives and so on.
Participants were excluded if their symptoms appeared more like oral allergy syndrome or food intolerance, which often causes symptoms like diarrhea or cramps.
So what is this growing obsession with food allergies among adults in the U.S. today? Are we too quick to blame food for how we feel?
Catherine Monteleone, an allergist-immunologist at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, said when people experience vague symptoms like headaches or fatigue, they often have an inclination to blame the food they’ve eaten.
“They want to find something they can change that will make them feel better … they want to find a fix,” she said. “And so they’ll look for, ‘Well, I think it’s every time I eat wheat,’ and they’ll sort of jump on that, and hope that by eliminating that, their symptoms will get better.”
The danger, she said, is when people unnecessarily cut out food from their diet that may be vital for their health.
Monteleone said she’s glad there’s been more awareness about food allergies in recent years, citing how some can be potentially life-threatening, as seen earlier this month when an 11-year-old New Jersey boy died reportedly from a severe allergic reaction to the smell of fish being cooked at his grandmother’s home in Brooklyn.
But, like anything, she said things can go too far, and apparently to an extent where millions of people believe they have a food allergy when they don’t and begin taking measures to treat it when it’s unneeded.
“I think we’ve become a little obsessed with it,” she said.
It’s fine, she said, if you don’t want to eat a food or ingredient like, say, gluten. But, she added, “It’s harmful when it becomes to the point where people are losing weight or not getting the nutrition they need” or become afraid of certain foods and are taking unnecessary steps in life.
The best thing you can do, she said, is obviously take the extra step and get checked by a specialist.
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