In posts earlier this week, I questioned the validity of the Flour Advisory Bureau’s Wheat Hypersensitivity Report, written by a team at the University of Portsmouth, and criticised the media’s reporting of it.
The most dislikeable follow-up piece of writing I read was this, by Dr Max Pemberton in the Telegraph, in which he can’t even seem to decide whether food allergy and food intolerance are the same, or different, or whether one forms a subset of the other. Still, why let silly little medical definitions get in the way of a good moan about the nation’s hypochondriacs?
“Now research conducted by Portsmouth University has shown that of those people claiming to have an allergy or intolerance, only 2 per cent actually did.”
This is quite wrong. The ‘research’ he is referring to here is research you or I can easily do. It involves reading the abstract of a paper entitled ‘A Population Study of Food Intolerance’, published in the Lancet in 1994, and identifying a figure. Click here to do so.
Well done! You just did some ‘research’. As a bona fide researcher, you’ll have seen that that 2 per cent (actually 1.4 to 1.8, but reasonably rounded up by Portsmouth) refers to the whole population, not ‘those people claiming to have an allergy or intolerance’. I suspect the lack of clarity on the matter in Rebecca Smith’s Telegraph piece here, two weeks earlier, led to this error.
Moving on, and Pemberton refers to ‘the false belief that something is wrong with you’ – a ‘mass delusion’. (He’s talking about people who feel ill, in case you’re wondering.) He asks:
“Why do people restrict their intake unnecessarily by falsely claiming to have a medical condition?”
Falsely claiming? Do you mean lying, Dr Pemberton? I think he probably does. Even an acquaintance isn’t spared:
“Only last week, a friend with recently self-diagnosed lactose intolerance came round for a cup of tea. “Do you have any soya milk?” she asked as the kettle boiled. I confessed I hadn’t and felt awful. It was then that I realised she was on her third chocolate biscuit. “Oh, milk’s OK in chocolate biscuits,” she said hastily. How convenient, I thought.”
Many people with lactose intolerance can easily tolerate small amounts, and when the milk is processed, or consumed bound within another food, it is typically much more tolerable. All lactose intolerants know that fresh milk is the most likely to trigger symptoms, and hence are far more wary of it.
Still, who cares if they get the trots. It’s only deluded people who are labouring under false beliefs, after all.