Not everyone enjoyed my recent post about PoMas — post-materialist consumers who live modestly but spend up big. Some readers were particularly irritated by the comment about food intolerances. For example, Galaca says:
I can’t help feeling this is yet another article sneering at inner-city lefties. The sentence "In a PoMa household there’s almost always someone with a food allergy or intolerance" does seem a bit of a giveaway.
I’m sure you don’t care what I think, but for me to take you seriously, I’d like some evidence please, otherwise I’ll have to conclude that you’re just recycling right wing prejudices.
Not surprisingly, I haven’t been jetting around the country conducting focus groups or commissioning market research surveys to test out my ideas. But as far as evidence goes, there is some reason to think that perceived food intolerance in children is associated with mother’s level of education. For example a study published in the British Medical Journal reported that:
The association between the mother’s level of education and her perception of food intolerance was very strong. The proportion of food intolerant children was about three times higher in mothers with university or polytechnic education than in those who reached only secondary education level (table III). Food intolerance was also associated with the father’s social class and the number of siblings but not with the mother’s hours of working outside the home (table IV). Food intolerance was more prevalent in the upper social classes and slightly more common in large families. After adjustment for the other factors only the mother’s level of education was associated with food intolerance, and this remained strong (p<O-Ol).
Other studies have reported similar findings.
A thesis by Nina Gunnarsson looked at child allergy from the parent perspective. Gunnarsson interviewed a sample of parents of school age children with exclusion diets. She reported that "The proactive strategies parents use might be interpreted as a way for them to attain moral recognition from others."
Doctors can sometimes be dismissive when parents raise the issue of allergies or intolerances. But Gunnarsson argues that health professionals need to work with parents and respect their choices and decisions. The parents in her study typically sought help only after they had tried to manage the problem themselves. She writes:
… seeking professional medical help is, especially for mothers, not merely about receiving a diagnosis and effective treatment or about receiving advice for children’s problems. It is also about their identities and moral character as individuals and parents. The fact that mothers experience that they are being recognized as competent and responsible parents by health professionals is likely to shape the doctor-parent meeting in a positive and mutual direction that will take into consideration both the doctors’ medical expertise and the particular expertise of the mothers …
Even if food allergies and intolerances aren’t as common as parents might think, this doesn’t mean they’re rare or unimportant. And Gunnarsson is right to argue that medical professionals need to work with parents rather than dismiss their concerns.
Note: Allergic responses involve the immune system and in extreme cases can be fatal (for example peanut allergy). Food intolerances do not involve the immune system (for example, lactose intolerance). Allergies and intolerances can share similar symptoms.