Does the General Public Misunderstand Food Allergies?

Posted 7.30.09 | Christine Graham-Garo

Have you experienced problems with people who do not fully understand what it means to have a food allergy? From the waiters at your favorite restaurant to a schoolmate on the playground, those who do not understand the severity of food allergies could unknowingly put your food allergic child in harm’s way.

A report published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology shows that food allergy knowledge in the general public is poor, especially when it comes to knowing the difference between food allergy and food intolerance.

One of the most alarming misconceptions highlighted by the report is 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.”

Unfortunately, it is up to the food allergy community to raise awareness and educate others about the severity of the condition. Here are a few tips to help you inform others about your little one’s food allergies. The more people know about food allergies, the more likely they are to be vigilant about helping your child avoid potential allergens.

  • Schedule a meeting with your child’s teachers and caretakers to go over the basics and put a plan into place to help avoid an emergency.
  • Ask teachers and students to participate in the “Be a PAL” Program, which teaches five simple steps kids can take to keep their classmates safe.
  • When you dine out, bring “chef cards” with you to alert the wait staff and those in the kitchen of your child’s allergies.
  • Remind people that a food allergy is different from food intolerance, which does not involve the immune system and is typically not life threatening like a food allergy.

Have you had experiences with the general public not understanding the severity of your child’s allergy? I encourage you to help support other food allergy families by sharing some of your stories here and telling us how you handled the situation and any additional recommendations you may have.


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Food Allergy Living is a resource for parents of children with food allergies, brought to you by Nutricia, the makers of Neocate. For more in-depth information about our purpose & authors, see our About Food Allergy Living page.