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Monday, 5 November, 2001, 17:03 GMT
'False epidemic' of food allergy
Dairy shelf
Many people are advised to cut out dairy products
Many people led to believe they have a food allergy or intolerance are being misdiagnosed, say nutritional experts.

The British Nutrition Foundation says that one in five Britons now thinks they have some kind of intolerance or allergy.

Many, it says, have been told that this is the root of health problems such as spots, upset stomachs, weight gain and headaches.

Intolerance to wheat or dairy products is a frequent diagnosis - and sufferers are often told to cut these from their diets to reduce symptoms.

We are very concerned that the people seem to be using food allergies and intolerance as an excuse for weight gain

Sarah Schenker, British Nutrition Foundation
However, the foundation says that in truth, only a fraction of these actually have any sort of allergic or intolerant reaction to food types.

It has examined a series of worldwide studies conducted into food allergies.

These, it says, point to fewer than 1% of adults having a full-blown, potentially life-threatening food allergy.

Fewer than 2%, it says, have a milder food intolerance.

'Trendy thing'

Dr Sarah Schenker, a nutrition scientist for the foundation, said: "About 20% of the UK population perceive themselves to have an intolerance or allergy to food.

"It seems like the trendy thing to do now.

"We are very concerned that the people seem to be using food allergies and intolerance as an excuse for weight gain rather than cutting down on food and doing more exercise."

She said that many so-called allergy "experts" were charging patients large sums of money for tests with little or no scientific validity - and might even be giving potentially dangerous diet advice.

"If people are told to cut a lot of food out of their diet, they can lose the overall balance of the diet and that is no good."

She said that a true wheat allergy would certainly not result in weight gain - chronic diarrhoea would be more likely to be the outcome.

The chief executive of the British Allergy Foundation, Muriel Simmons, disputed the findings.

"Going by the cries for help that we get, it is far more common, " she told The Times.

The worldwide studies did suggest that food allergies and intolerances were marginally more commonplace in children.

Between 1% and 2% have an allergy, and between 5% and 8% have some form of food intolerance, said the foundation's review.

The BBC's Nicola Carslaw
"Twenty percent of us think we have adverse reactions to food"
See also:

14 Aug 00 | Health
Doctors warn of allergy risks
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