Background: Food allergy prevalence is increasing in US children. Presently, the primary means of preventing potentially fatal reactions are avoidance of allergens, prompt recognition of food allergy reactions, and knowledge about food allergy reaction treatments. Focus groups were held as a preliminary step in the development of validated survey instruments to assess food allergy knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs of parents, physicians, and the general public.
Methods: Eight focus groups were conducted between January and July of 2006 in the Chicago area with parents of children with food allergy (3 groups), physicians (3 groups), and the general public (2 groups). A constant comparative method was used to identify the emerging themes which were then grouped into key domains of food allergy knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs.
Results: Parents of children with food allergy had solid fundamental knowledge but had concerns about primary care physicians' knowledge of food allergy, diagnostic approaches, and treatment practices. The considerable impact of children's food allergies on familial quality of life was articulated. Physicians had good basic knowledge of food allergy but differed in their approach to diagnosis and advice about starting solids and breastfeeding. The general public had wide variation in knowledge about food allergy with many misconceptions of key concepts related to prevalence, definition, and triggers of food allergy.
Conclusion: Appreciable food allergy knowledge gaps exist, especially among physicians and the general public. The quality of life for children with food allergy and their families is significantly affected.