Background: Members of the general public play a significant role in the well-being of food-allergic children, although little is known about the knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs of food allergy among the public.
Objective: To provide insight into food allergy knowledge and perceptions among the general US population.
Methods: A national sample of adults was recruited in February 2008 to complete the validated Web-based Chicago Food Allergy Research Survey for the General Public. Findings were analyzed to provide composite/itemized knowledge scores, describe attitudes and beliefs, and examine the effect of prior knowledge/familiarity with food allergy on knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs.
Results: A sample of 2,148 respondents was obtained. Participants answered 64.9% (range, 12.5%-100.0%) of knowledge-based items correctly. Strengths were identified in areas related to symptoms/severity and triggers/environmental risks of food allergy. Knowledge was poor concerning the distinction between food allergy and food intolerance, the absence of a cure, and current means to treat food allergy. Higher scores were significantly associated with self-report of prior knowledge/familiarity with food allergy, particularly among those with prior training in food allergy (median increase, 7.9%). Perceptions regarding food allergy were generally well distributed, although respondents tended to minimize the stigma associated with food allergy and to oppose specific food allergy policies in schools.
Conclusions: Increased food allergy knowledge among the general public is needed. Improved public awareness of the challenges faced by food-allergic children may encourage adoption of standardized school policies to keep affected children safe. These efforts are critical for protecting young children with food allergy and avoiding life-threatening anaphylactic reactions.