Allergies and intolerances can be challenging to manage and in the case of food allergy, it can be potentially life-threatening for many Canadians. As the school year is now underway, and Halloween is around the corner, parents and children may experience periods of anxiety and stress in new environments. Food labelling has also been challenging for industry to properly label allergens. Most of the food recalls in 2020 in Canada (about 35 per cent) were due to the suspected presence of undeclared allergens in food. The Agri-Food Analytics Lab, Food Allergy Canada, in partnership with Caddle, is releasing the results of a survey on food allergies and intolerances. The objective was to better understand how predominant food allergies and intolerances are in the Canadian population and to see how Canadians are coping with their condition.
When Canadians were asked if they have any allergies or intolerances, our preliminary findings show that 25 per cent of respondents claimed they have at least one allergy and/or intolerance. Of these Canadians, we estimate that anywhere between 2.5 to 3.1 million have at least one food allergy. When asked how their condition was diagnosed, 41.3 per cent of respondents surveyed claimed an allergy expert had diagnosed their condition. A total of 22.4 per cent claimed that their condition was diagnosed by a non-allergy expert or a physician. A total of 36.2 per cent of Canadians said they had self-diagnosed their condition.
As for food intolerances, it is estimated that between 6.8 to 7.4 million Canadians have at least one food intolerance. A total of 48.1 per cent of respondents indicated their food intolerance was self-diagnosed. All other respondents claimed that their condition had been diagnosed by an allergy expert (25.5 per cent) or by a physician (26.4 per cent).
A total of 45.2 per cent of respondents noticed their allergy and/or intolerance as an adult. A total of 19.6 per cent were diagnosed before the age of 6. While 11.6 per cent were diagnosed between the ages of 6 and 10 years old, 10.1 per cent were diagnosed between the ages of 11 and 15 years old. A total of 13.7 per cent were diagnosed between 16 and 19 years old. Interestingly, 53.9 per cent of respondents claimed that they became aware of their allergy or intolerance within the last 5 years.
Many Canadians have had reactions to certain foods over the years. While a total of 33.7 per cent have had a reaction several times, 13.8 per cent have had a reaction once. A total of 23.4 per cent have yet to have a reaction. Of Canadians with a condition, 46.3 per cent believe food products are properly labelled, 27.8 per cent believe food products are not properly labelled, and 25.9 per cent are not sure. A total of 57.8 per cent of respondents with a condition believe grocers offer enough options for people with allergies or intolerances, while this offering is seen as inadequate by many Canadians.
For the food service sector (restaurants), results are different. Only 27.7 per cent of respondents with a condition believe menus properly indicate allergens. As such, 67.5 per cent of respondents with a condition will ask a waiter, a cook or chef for more information about ingredients, either sometimes or all the time. Nonetheless, a total of 46.0 per cent of Canadians have had a reaction at a restaurant at least once, and 25.5 per cent more than once. Symptoms will vary among cases.
“Consumers with food allergy need access to complete and accurate ingredient information, regardless of how the food is manufactured or prepared,” says Jennifer Gerdts, Executive Director with Food Allergy Canada. Having the information they need to make a safe, informed choice is critical for our community to stay safe and avoid serious allergic reactions—both for pre-packaged products and food served in restaurants. Knowing what’s in your food is important for all Canadians, but for those with food allergy is essential.”
The data shows many Canadians do suffer from food allergies and intolerances and some adjustments are required. While grocers will need to think about offering more choices to consumers with allergies and intolerances, the food service industry will need to be more transparent about ingredients for customers looking for more information about the food they serve. According to a recent poll by Angus Reid, 29 per cent of Canadians order food to be delivered to their homes at least once every two weeks. This makes it even more important for consumers to have access to accurate and complete ingredient information when ordering online or through third-party delivery services.
Methodology: A representative survey of Canadians was conducted in the summer of 2021, in partnership with Caddle. 10,009 Canadians participated in this survey.
Margin of Error: +/- 1.3%, 19 times out of 20. Any discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding.
Research Ethics Certificate: No. 2020-5215.
Disclosure: Funding for this survey was provided by Caddle and Dalhousie University.