Exploring the Determinants of the Perceived Risk of Food Allergies in Canada
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Food allergies are emerging health risks in much of the Western world, and some evidence suggests prevalence is increasing. Despite lacking scientific consensus around prevalence and management, policies and regulations are being implemented in public spaces (e.g., schools). These policies have been criticized as extreme in the literature, in the media, and by the non-allergic population. Backlash appears to be resulting from different perceptions of risk between different groups. This article uses a recently assembled national dataset (n = 3,666) to explore how Canadians perceive the risks of food allergy. Analyses revealed that almost 20% self-report having an allergic person in the household, while the average respondent estimated the prevalence of food allergies in Canada to be 30%. Both of these measures overestimate the true clinically defined prevalence (7.5%), indicating an inflated public understanding of the risks of food allergies. Seventy percent reported food allergies to be substantial risks to the Canadian population. Multivariate logistic regression models revealed important determinants of risk perception including demographic, experience-based, attitudinal, and regional predictors. Results are discussed in terms of understanding emerging health risks in the post-industrial era, and implications for both policy and risk communication.
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