Allergy/Asthma Information Association


National Survey Launched to Study Food Allergies in Canada and
Develop Strategies to Prevent and Manage Them

July 23, 2008 (Hamilton, ON)— Researchers from AllerGen NCE Inc., the Allergy, Genes and Environment Network, in partnership with Health Canada, have launched a national study to determine how prevalent food allergies are among the Canadian population and how effective allergen warnings are on food labels.

Results from the study will help Canadian policy makers ensure that sufficient health and education resources are allocated to help prevent, diagnose and manage allergic diseases, as well as help companies develop clear and safe labeling on food products.

The study, Surveying Canadians to Assess the Prevalence of Common Food Allergies and Attitudes towards Food Labelling and Risk (SCAAALAR), is surveying 9,000 individuals across the country to determine the percentage of Canadians affected by peanut, tree, fish, shellfish and sesame allergies, either directly or indirectly, and examine the effectiveness of labeling policies by the food industry. For example, the study will review whether people avoid foods carrying warnings and whether they understand precautionary labeling on foods.

The study’s principal co-investigators, Dr. Ann Clarke, a practicing allergist at McGill University Health Centre and Professor at McGill University in Montreal, and Susan Elliott, PhD, professor, School of Geography and Earth Sciences, McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, are looking to the survey’s results to help fill the knowledge gap that exists when it comes to allergy prevalence and appropriate community response. They hope to have results from the SCAAALAR study late in 2009.

Clarke says food allergies are on the rise in Canada. Results from an earlier study by Clarke show that about 1.5 per cent of elementary school-aged children in Montreal are allergic to peanuts.

“Right now, Canadian society isn’t clear how to respond to this apparent and unexplained increase in food allergy,” says Clarke. “We have limited information regarding the number of Canadians afflicted, so it is difficult to know what an appropriate response from healthcare agencies or policy makers would be.”

The study will also address the attitudes of the general public towards food allergy and the effectiveness of food labeling that alerts consumers to allergens in products.

Elliott says it is important to understand how serious a risk Canadians consider food allergy in order to go forward with appropriate policies guiding education and management of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction some people have when exposed to certain foods.

“Results from this study will assist the food industry to know what labeling is effective in helping allergic consumers to avoid foods containing allergens. It will also aid in the development and implementation of anaphylaxis management policies at public institutions,” says Elliott.

In addition to the SCAAALAR study, AllerGen research is also focusing on identifying the genetic predictors of food allergy, as well developing more effective methods to safely diagnose, treat and prevent food allergy.

“AllerGen research aims to improve the quality of life for Canadians suffering from this disease through the development of new diagnostic tests, more effective treatments and better management strategies in the home, at school and in the workplace,” says AllerGen’s Scientific Director Dr. Judah Denburg, Professor of Medicine and Director of Clinical Immunology and Allergy at McMaster University.

The SCAAALAR study is supported by AllerGen in partnership with Health Canada, McMaster University’s Institute of Environment and Health, McGill University Health Centre, Montreal Children’s Hospital, Anaphylaxis Canada, Association québécoise des allergies alimentaires, and the Allergy/Asthma Information Association.

AllerGen is a national research network dedicated to improving the quality of life for people suffering from allergic and related immune diseases. Funded through the federal Networks of Centres of Excellence program, the Network is hosted at McMaster University in Hamilton.

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