The problem of food allergies is becoming more visible as time goes on. More brands, interest groups, and communities are working together to both show how deep food allergy problems are and to make a proper diet and health care available for those who deal with them on a daily basis.
FARE, which is the leading NGO advocating for food allergies and funding research, has been working on quantifying and addressing the topic for years. Even though the research from That’s It shows a huge increase in the number of people who are impacted by food allergies over FARE’s own statistics released last year, it is not surprising. Many people know someone who needs to avoid certain foods and ingredients, and behavior modifications for this reason are becoming both more prevalent.
There may also be many people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds who have been falling through the cracks of food allergy treatment. While much has been said and written about racial inequalities in health care, that concern has seldom been extended to food allergy treatment and education.
FARE’s “Blueprint for Access,” written from findings after a roundtable series with health care and allergy experts on diversity, equity, inclusion and access, brings the need for equity into focus. Black Americans are significantly more likely than White Americans to develop food allergies, and research has found that Black children are more likely to have adverse reactions. But analyses of health care spending shows Black families pursue less care at allergy specialists, the report says.
For people on Medicaid, the prevalence of receiving an official diagnosis of a food allergy is 87% lower than those using private insurance. Consumers shopping with food allergies in mind typically need to spend 5% more on grocery trips, FARE has found, and people in lower income brackets may be less able to afford it. This can lead to much higher bills for emergency treatment for allergic reactions.
There is also a history of distrust of medical practices in minority communities. FARE’s blueprint lays out ways to build trust using community liaisons, transparency and doing more listening than talking.
“Gaining the trust of Black and Latino communities is one of the biggest obstacles we face,” Dr. Milton Brown, a member of FARE’s board and Director of the Center for Drug Discovery for Rare Diseases at George Mason University, said in a written statement. “For centuries, these communities have been mistreated and misled and, as such, they are very cautious and often refuse outside help. But I’m confident with truth and engagement we can overcome this.”
As FARE is working toward expanding access, many food and drink manufacturers are responding to the needs of this community. According to FARE, consumers spend $19 billion on allergen-free shopping each year. The annual growth rate for the allergy-friendly food segment is 27%. More allergy-friendly brands are hitting grocery shelves, both from big manufacturers like Mondelez’s Enjoy Life and smaller startups. While these types of items are becoming more commonly available, manufacturers should think about pricing them at a point that is affordable to a wide range of consumers. Startups like Partake Foods, which was founded by a Black woman, also can help increase trust among minorities in allergy-friendly food.