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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Food Allergy in the Spotlight

9:09 AM Posted by Tiffany Taft , ,
Food allergies.  They seem to be everywhere, lately.  We hear most about peanut allergies, but we humans can be allergic to pretty much any food.   Some foods are more likely to cause allergies, which are often referred to as the "Top 8":  Dairy, Eggs, Soy, Wheat/Gluten, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Fish, and Shellfish.  Food allergies are on the rise in the US, but the answer to the logical question "Why?" remains elusive.  One raging debate is about how we produce food in this country, en masse, to feed the masses quickly and cheaply.  Another, related debate, is the use of genetically modified crops (GMOs) that go along with the more potent pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides we use to minimize crop losses.  I'm not going to get into all of that today.  Rather, talk a bit about the social and psychological impact of food allergies.

But first, announcements!

The Discovery Channel will air a documentary, “An Emerging Epidemic: Food Allergies in America,” on Saturday September 7 at 8 a.m. ET/PT and September 21 at 8 a.m. ET/PT. The organization Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) teamed up with the Discovery Channel to explore what it's like to live with food allergies, awareness campaigns, and current research into food allergy treatments.  Even if you don't have food allergies, or have a friend or family member with them, I think it'd be a good idea to check this out because the odds that you'll encounter someone with food allergies in your lifetime are pretty high.  According to FARE, 1 in 13 kids have a food allergy and an estimated 15 million people in the US are affected.

Several months ago, I wrote a guest post for a great blog It's an Itchy Little World where I touched on some of the struggles parents of kids with food allergies face.  For example, 41% report significant caregiver stress, 49% state that food allergy reduces the family’s social activities, and 34% report reduced school attendance. In my research on this topic, I came across Food Allergy Fun, a blog with cartoons that depict stigma and, well, some of the dumb things people say to people with food allergies.  Here are a few of my favorites, if favorites is the right term for something like this.

Wait, you still have this?  Many people have a hard time wrapping their brains around chronic illness, including food allergies.  There are many theories as to why this is the case, and individual differences exist, but I would say about 95.87% of people I see report something along the lines of this:

Blame, either from the self or others.  Patients, or parents of kid-patients, may ask what they did (or didn't do) to bring on food allergies.  It doesn't help that many people seem to be experts on the subject, especially with such easy access to Dr. Google:

Yeah, well I have this.  I believe that most people mean well, and try to relate to what people living with food allergies are going through.  But comparisons can make people feel unheard and that their situation is being minimized.  I call this empathy gone wrong:

These are just a few examples of what life with food allergies can be like. I'm looking forward to seeing how the Discovery documentary addresses some of these issues and helps turn our attention away from Miley.

Dr. T