The level of knowledge and understanding of children with food allergies varies significantly across three key groups: pediatricians and family physicians, the general public and families who have a child with food allergies. The article describing the new findings was published in the September issue of BioMed Central Pediatrics.
The research group, led by Ruchi Gupta, MD MPH, assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Children's Memorial Research Center, found that misconceptions around food allergy are prevalent among the general public; parents have good knowledge but face many daily challenges; and that physicians differ in their approach to diagnosis and advice for children with food allergies.
The results show that parents of children with food allergies have solid knowledge but experience high levels of anxiety as they worry about their children eating the wrong foods. As one mother said "You are so fearful of anaphylaxis and death. It is this kind of unknowing, this uncertainty of what degree of reaction it's going to be." Parents felt food allergies impacted every aspect of their lives, including daily functioning, relationships, work and marriage. As one father put it, "My wife is much more into 100 percent prevention all the time and I am more into trying to maximize what my son can do." Many mothers felt their careers suffered or stopped due to the need to protect their child from harmful foods at all meal times.
Physicians had basic knowledge of food allergies and anaphylaxis but differed on their approach to diagnosis and the advice they offered families about breastfeeding and introduction of solids. The general public varied in its knowledge of the symptoms and triggers of food allergies. They also tended to overestimate food allergy prevalence and were inclined to over diagnose food allergies in themselves and in their children. As one person put it, "I really think every single person has an allergy they do not know about." As for quality of life -- one mother stated, "One of my daughter's friends is allergic to nuts, and I have to be very careful when we have her over for a play date."
This study helped develop a survey about knowledge, attitudes and beliefs for parents of children with food allergy, physicians and the general public. The surveys were validated and reviewed. This set of studies will help increase knowledge around food allergy in three very important groups to improve the health and lives of children and families with food allergy.
The study was supported by grants from the Food Allergy Project which was created by the Bunning Food Allergy Center at Children's Memorial Research Center and Children's Memorial Hospital. In 2003, Denise and David Bunning, whose two sons suffer from severe, life-threatening food allergies established the foundation with an $8.5 million, five-year, multi-center food allergy program. The Bunnings have long been committed to advancing education, awareness and research of the growing prevalence of food allergies in children.
Children's Memorial Research Center is the research arm of Children's Memorial Hospital, the pediatric teaching hospital of Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine and one of a small number of institutions in the US that focuses primarily on pediatric research.