A population study of food intolerance

Lancet. 1994 May 7;343(8906):1127-30. doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(94)90234-8.


We did a population study to identify the prevalence of reactions to eight foods commonly perceived to cause sensitivity in the UK. A cross-sectional survey of 7500 households in the Wycombe Health Authority area and the same number of randomly-selected households nationwide was followed up by interviews of positive respondents from the Wycombe Health Authority area. Those who agreed entered a double-blind, placebo-controlled food challenge study to confirm food intolerance. 20.4% of the nationwide sample and 19.9% of the High Wycombe sample complained of food intolerance. Of the 93 subjects who entered the double-blind, placebo-controlled food challenge, 19.4% (95% confidence interval 11.4%-27.4%) had a positive reaction. The estimated prevalence of reactions to the eight foods tested in the population varied from 1.4% to 1.8% according to the definition used. Women perceived food intolerance more frequently and showed a higher rate of positive results to food challenge. There is a discrepancy between perception of food intolerance and the results of the double-blind placebo-controlled food challenges. The consequences of mistaken perception of food intolerance may be considerable in financial, nutritional, and health terms.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health
  • Child
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Decision Trees
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Food Hypersensitivity / diagnosis
  • Food Hypersensitivity / epidemiology*
  • Food Hypersensitivity / psychology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Placebos
  • Population Surveillance*
  • Prevalence
  • Sampling Studies
  • Self Care
  • Sex Ratio
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Placebos