A Survey of Attitudes and Practices of Adults with Severe Food Allergies
Food allergy is a growing problem that affects approximately 12 million people in the United States. Since there is no cure for food allergy, the only way for a food allergic person to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid the offending food(s). As such, proper education and training of people with food allergy, as well as physicians and the health care community, food service operators and the general public is greatly needed. The purpose of this study was to interview adults, 18 years or older, who have life threatening food allergies and to identify motivators and barriers to safe food selections, as well as barriers to implementation of emergency action plans in case of accidental ingestion of allergenic food(s). Information gathered from this project will be used to design education and training materials for adults with severe food allergies, physicians and food service operators. Eighty volunteers from New York and New Jersey were interviewed for 60 to 90 minutes using a questionnaire on attitudes and behaviors concerning their food allergies. They were asked about the practices they used to select foods for home preparation and food consumed in other venues, as well as their food practices in restaurants, and preparedness for accidental exposure to food allergens. Results indicate that although respondents with severe food allergy are relatively confident with the information they have been given by medical personnel, averaging 7.56 on a 10 point scale, (1-helpless, 10-confident), 64 percent mentioned that they have not been adequately informed about how to avoid the foods to which they are allergic, or how to handle a reaction (66%). In addition, confidence in being able to avoid a food allergic reaction outside of the home is significantly lower than in the home. These data, particularly concerning foods to avoid, indicate a lack of awareness that could result in a higher incidence of accidental ingestion of food allergens. Subjects who carry epinephrine auto injectors are also underinformed about how to use their auto injector as well as the importance of carrying it on a regular basis, and are only moderately confident using it if a potentially severe reaction occurs. In addition, participants are less confident about eating in food service establishments, which could lead to reduced patronage or eating fewer foods. Study participants made many suggestions about improving confidence and knowledge surrounding their food allergy, including more and better information from medical personnel, and the development of more education materials for food allergy sufferers, as well as educational programs for schools and food service establishments. There was also a desire for alternate forms of epinephrine administration, more training on its use, and smaller, heat-resistant packaging. The conclusions drawn from this study indicate that there is a deficit of knowledge in people suffering from severe food allergy concerning diagnosis, treatment and management, especially concerning epinephrine auto injectors. There is also a need for greater physician involvement in their food allergic patients? allergy management. Based on the findings from this study, future research projects should investigate whether supplying the information participants think would improve their confidence and knowledge levels actually has the desired effect. Also, participants emphasized the need for additional educational programs for those who come in contact with food allergic individuals. With this in mind, research should be conducted to determine the best methods of implementing these programs and measuring their effectiveness in food service establishments and schools.
The United States Department of Agriculture, Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, National Integrated Food Safety Initiative (Project # 2003-51110-01728)
food allergy; food allergy management; education
dissertation or thesis