Will the Mail ever change their ‘It’s all in your head’ tune?

Another day, another Daily Mail article telling some people they’re deluded.

I agree with Dr Ranj on a lot: the unproven usefulness of IgG testing, the risks of extreme diets, that self-diagnosis is not reliable, for instance.

My objections are twofold, and I don’t blame him necessarily for them. 

The first concerns the repeating of a piece of data which continues to be misused and abused, and has been for years – that 30% of adults think they are allergic to food, but that in reality it’s around 2%. Sometimes the figure are given as 20% and 2% respectively.

This is deeply misleading. Look closely at the studies, and you see that 30% of individuals think they are food sensitive – that they think they react to a food. Ordinary members of the public may call this ‘allergy’, but what they are describing is any reaction to food. This is explained in this Foods Matter report. (The 20% / 2% figure comes from this 1994 study.) The 2% figure relates to IgE-mediated allergy, with its symptoms of itchy mouth, wheezing, rashes, anaphylaxis etc – and is indeed roughly accurate. Were you to explain this to the members of the public being surveyed, they would not describe what they are experiencing as an allergy. The public conflate and confuse allergy and intolerance, and this negates the relevance of this piece of data. This fact is deeply inconvenient to those who wish to criticise those who feel unwell and self-diagnose their sensitivities – and they continue to trot it out ad infinitum. It’s lazy and tedious. 

The second concerns the continuing attacks – sometimes subtle – on those who feel they react to food. I don’t endorse self-diagnosis, but have every sympathy with those who eventually resort to it, given doctors can severely underestimate food sensitivities, but my issue is with the imposition of shame on those who may have a psychological issue with food. As I’ve said before, if you think you have a problem with food – then you have a problem with food, whether psychological, physiological or a combination. But there is a genuinely nasty tendency among some who like to finger-point these people as fantasists – and the Daily Mail are perhaps the biggest culprits. They have, frankly, been doing it for years

I have no doubt that some marketeers of fad diet programmes and ‘free from’ foods and unproven food sensitivity testing kits have, in the past, been guilty of triggering ‘am i food sensitive?’ paranoia among the gullible well. But that is not the gullible well’s fault – but a failure of the regulations which govern the claims and messages that can be distributed to the public, and a failure of the media to cut through the crap and report accurately.

It’s time to stop telling them, and other people, that their food sensitivities are ‘all in your head’. Yes, they may be, or no, they may not be, or yes and no, they may be partially. But all cases are worthy of equal respect, investigation and understanding – and commentators and the medical profession surely need to understand this?


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