Food allergies nonsense? Where did this “30%” come from anyway?

In every food allergy denier article I come across about how few people really have food allergies, predictably it touts how the number of people who really have food allergies isn’t 30%, but in fact much lower than 10%.  This raises two questions:

1. So what? Whether people who don’t have food allergies think they have, never mind how many, doesn’t mitigate the seriousness of anaphylaxis.

While it may be frustrating when others react skeptically about your or your child’s life-threatening condition, they are reasonable to react skeptically. Most of us know people who proclaim they’re allergic to food they simply dislike, or to food to which they once had a bad experience. Some have gone so far as to eliminate a certain food from their diet, feel better, and conclude that they must have been allergic to the restricted item.

Fortunately, we now have better clinical guidelines for bona fide testing of food allergies: food challenges.  If most people who believe they have food allergies really do not, a food challenge could settle the issue.  If it turns out they’re not allergic, they’ll have to imagine some other affliction.  If it confirms their allergy, they can tell their skeptics to shut up.

2. Where did the 30% number come from anyway? Gina Kolata’s New York Times May 11 article was where I first read the 30% figure.  I’d like to believe she has a source for that figure, but she didn’t cite any in her article.  I e-mailed her once asking where she got the figure; she never replied and I haven’t pursued the matter.

Has anyone seen an earlier reference to 30% being the number of Americans who believe they have food allergies?  This number, so round, smacks of truthiness.

If you can find an earlier citation of the 30% number, please add it in the comments.

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About Tom

Tom Anichini owns Egg-Free Epicurean along with his wife, Amy Jones Anichini, who founded the business in 2009. Tom is an actuary and an investment professional. He holds an MBA in Finance from the Chicago Booth School of Business and a BS in Actuarial Science from the University of Illinois. He is also a CFA charter holder and an Associate of the Society of Actuaries. He lives in San Diego with his wife and two daughters.
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