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Trevor Noah Mocking Food Allergies Misses the Point of New Study

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 JAMA study published on Jan. 4 revealed that only half of American adults who believe they have a food allergy actually do. Among those covering the study was “The Daily Show,” which decided to highlight the news by mocking those who claim to have food allergies.

“Allergies: they affect the lives of many bitch-ass Americans,” Trevor Noah, the show’s host says. “But according to a new study, the most common affliction is hypochondria.”

Like other media outlets, Noah, unfortunately, has misunderstood one of the study’s findings.

In a survey of over 40,000 American adults, approximately 19 percent reported they had a food allergy. After ruling out those whose allergies were not diagnosed by a doctor or did not present with severe allergic symptoms such as difficulty breathing and swallowing, researchers estimated that only about 10.8 percent of those surveyed have a “true allergy.”

While the others may not have a “true allergy” or symptoms such as difficulty swallowing, throat/chest tightening or trouble breathing, that doesn’t mean they don’t experience symptoms after eating certain foods. What Noah misses is the difference between an allergy and an intolerance.

Food allergies are caused by an immune response, which can trigger symptoms in your respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, skin or cardiovascular system. Food intolerances, on the other hand, can arise for a number of reasons but primarily affect the GI tract. Food intolerances can cause serious and painful symptoms but are not typically fatal. Allergies range from mild to severe and can result in anaphylaxis – a potentially fatal allergic reaction involving a sudden drop in blood pressure, loss of consciousness and body system failure.

A study shows that half the people who claim food allergies don’t actually have them. BRING ON THE GLUTEN!!!

Posted by The Daily Show on Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Having an intolerance does not make you a hypochondriac, as Noah suggests.

“The only thing you gluten-free motherf*****s are allergic to is a good time,” Noah continues. “That’s all it is. ‘I’m allergic to gluten. I’m allergic to gluten.’”

What Noah does not seem to understand is that there are many reasons a person may eat gluten-free besides having a gluten allergy. Celiac disease, for instance, is an autoimmune disease that involves an abnormal immune reaction to gluten. It is not technically considered a food allergy, but it can still cause serious complications such as malnutrition and intestinal damage. Approximately 18 million Americans also experience non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which can cause similar symptoms to celiac, though typically not as severe.

It’s not always clear why a person may develop a sensitivity to a particular food, but in some cases, a health condition can lead to an intolerance. Some of those with migraine, for example, find that their symptoms are triggered by foods or drinks containing monosodium glutamate (MSG), sulfites, caffeine or nitrates. Though they may not have an allergy to any of these ingredients, avoiding them may eliminate painful and unpleasant symptoms.

Yet Noah seems to think that 10 percent of Americans are overreacting, and avoiding certain foods unnecessarily.

It’s true that a significant portion of U.S. adults falsely reported a food allergy, but let’s think about why this might be.

First, not everyone who experiences symptoms after eating certain foods has the funds or resources to get allergy testing done. While testing is, of course, recommended, many folks may simply avoid certain food if they have a negative reaction to it, assuming the reaction is allergic. There is a general lack of understanding about the differences between food allergies and food intolerances, and sometimes it can be difficult to tell which you are experiencing.

Even those who know they have a food intolerance may tell others it’s an allergy so that their dietary needs are taken more seriously. Though this shouldn’t be the case, some hosts, restaurants, etc. will be more respectful and accommodating when they believe the individual has a “true allergy.”

Whatever the circumstances may be, those with food sensitivities deserve to be listened to and respected – not treated like “hypochondriacs” or fakers.

Let’s be real: Having any type of dietary restriction isn’t exactly easy, fun or desirable. There are times when you miss out on tasty food, and you often have to spend more money to accommodate your needs (what’s up with restaurants charging $5 extra for gluten-free hamburger buns?). Not to mention the judgment and “jokes” that often circulate as well.

I was disappointed Noah used people with serious health conditions as a punchline during his show – and I wasn’t the only one.

Unfortunately, Noah is not the first comedian to poke fun at people with food sensitivities. That is why it is so critical for us to raise awareness of how food allergies and food intolerances can affect people’s lives.

Regardless of whether a person has a food allergy or intolerance, both deserve to be taken seriously. We shouldn’t trivialize the impact that any type of food sensitivity can have. Food allergies can have serious (and sometimes fatal) consequences, but nausea, abdominal pain, cramps, gas, heartburn or diarrhea that can result from food intolerances are no laughing matter either.

Screenshot via “The Daily Show” video on Facebook

Originally published: January 15, 2019
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