It is unclear how the prevalence of people who believe the gluten-free diet (GFD) to be generally healthy ("Lifestylers") is impacting the overall rates of self-reported gluten sensitivity (GS). We repeated a population survey from 2012 in order to examine how attitudes towards GS have changed over time. Our survey (N = 1004) was administered in Sheffield (UK) in 2015, replicating the 2012 experiment. The questionnaire included a food frequency survey and assessed self-reported GS as well as associated variables (prevalence, current diet, pre-existing conditions, etc.). The overall rates of key variables and chi-squared analysis in comparison to the previous survey were as follows: self-reported GS was 32.8% (previously 12.9%, p < 0.001), pre-existing coeliac disease (CD) was 1.2% (previously 0.8%, p = 0.370), following a GFD was 3.7% (previously 3.7%, p = 0.997). Self-reported GS was positively associated with some pre-existing conditions, including anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue, headaches, and other food allergies/intolerances (including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS); chi-squared analyses, all p < 0.001). Over a 3-year period, the fraction of people who self-reported GS increased by over 250%. Despite this, arguably more meaningful indications of underlying physiological GS remained comparable. This research suggests that the public perception of gluten is causing a marked increase in the number of people who erroneously believe they are sensitive to it.
Keywords: coeliac disease; gluten sensitivity; lifestylers; people who avoid gluten; population survey.