Food allergies are less common than we think; in fact research shows that only a small percentage of people are diagnosed with a food allergy.
Martin Vanderwoude: A recent Angus Reid National Survey commissioned by the Peanut Bureau of Canada reveals confusions among Canadians about the prevalence and causes of severe food allergies. There are new allergen free products on store shelves, differences in government policies, and bans on certain foods in schools and public areas. Researcher and registered dietitian Dr. Janice Joneja says there's a definite need for public education. Dr. Janice Joneja: It is important for people to understand food allergies so that they can respond appropriately. The only way that we can manage food allergies is to correctly identify the food responsible and to avoid it. An allergy is a very specific respond of the immune system. There can be many causes for adverse reactions to foods, and just because the food does not agree with you, does not mean that you have an allergy to it. Martin Vanderwoude: The survey explored people's understanding of severe food allergies. The good news is, such allergies are less common than people think. Dr. Janice Joneja: There is a lot of confusion about the number of people who suffer from food allergies. Research shows us that 2% of the adult population of Canada has been diagnosed with food allergies. Although we do not have research that gives us the exact number of people who are at risk for severe anaphylactic reaction to food, we do know that the number is smaller than that 2%. Martin Vanderwoude: The survey showed there is not a clear understanding about the kinds of foods that can cause severe reactions. Nearly half of the respondents thought there were more than 12 foods that cause allergies. Dr. Janice Joneja: Health Canada recognizes nine primary food allergens. Most of the respondents to the survey could identify peanuts and milk. The remaining food allergens include tree nuts, sesame seeds, soy, wheat, eggs, fish, including shell fish, and sulphides, which are preservatives. These were less commonly known by the respondents. Martin Vanderwoude: The survey also discovered many people believe there are laws banning foods like peanuts from schools and other public areas. There is no such legislation in Canada and most experts don't support bans. Education and preparation however are critical. That's one reason why Ontario has implemented Sabrina's Law, which requires public schools to have training and emergency plans in place to help manage students who might be at risk. Other provinces have established similar policies. Dr. Janice Joneja: Food allergy cannot be taken lightly, however, overreaction, false assumptions, and self diagnosis can lead to problems. It is important for the food allergic person to understand the causes and management of their allergy. Individuals living with the food allergy need to read and understand food labels and to know where their allergen may be found. Martin Vanderwoude: If you are living with a food allergy or think you have one, you should seek the advice of a qualified allergist. For more information about food allergies please visit Health Canada's website, www.hc-sc.gc.ca, Martin Vanderwoude reporting.