I couldn’t help laughing at this, however inappropriate that might be. A presentation at the Cheltenham Science Festival was given by Tracey Brown, director of the charity Sense About Science. She sounds as if she has her work cut out, given all the drivel that comes from the press on a daily basis.
Here’s the long and short of it. Many middle class children are malnourished. The reason? Their ‘worried well’ parents reckon their little poppets have food allergies and lop food out of the children’s diets. They avoid wheat, eggs, nuts, milk, you name it, on the basis of believing there’s an allergic reaction about. Best thing is, they do this because they’ve used home testing kits with no foundation in real science.
Up to two in five people believe they have a food allergy, but in fact the numbers of true allergic individuals are a lot less than that. One study in the UK showed that 34% of parents reckoned their child had a food allergy. In fact, fewer than 5% had a true allergy. This doesn’t surprise me. The worried well are notoriously gullible.
I used to work with a company that made real grownup allergy test reagents, and they’re hard to make and very costly. Buy a test kit off the internet you’ll get some dodgy coloured water that goes cloudy as soon as you put anything in it, and conclude that your precious has an allergy. In most cases your poppet will have a mild intolerance, not a full-blown allergy.
Allergies are dangerous, let’s be in no doubt about that. Anaphylactic shock can kill, and is especially dangerous in teenietinies. However, it does seem to me that malnutrition is a pretty serious threat too. It’s indefensible that any child is malnourished in this country, but it’s even more ridiculous when the parents are affluent adults with no real grasp of science beyond the twaddle peddled by the likes of the Food Babe or the lunatic Gwyneth Paltrow. A consultant paediatric allergist, Paul Seddon, reckons he routinely sees children on unnecessarily restrictive diets because the parents, though acting in good faith, have been hoodwinked by the money grubbing charlatans out there. Those words about charlatans are mine not his.
Allergies are much more commonly reported in affluent children than in those brought up in lower income households. And Tariq El-Shanawany, from the University Hospital of Wales, nails it. ‘…there’s just a risk of confirmation bias, where you have a suspicion and you can find lots of stuff (often false in my experience, but that’s just me not Tariq) to back up that suspicion rather than necessarily looking at the whole picture.’
To sum up. Food allergies in children are much less common than people think. If you really think your child really has an allergy, as opposed to a minor intolerance, get the little tyke or tykette properly tested, and don’t waste money on something from an internet snake oil merchant.