The term "food allergy" has become a catch-all phrase that could include anything from an anaphylactic reaction caused by a food protein to a lactose intolerance to a food sensitivity. This week the Dr. Oz show explored the topic, "Are Food Allergies Making You Fat?".
"You could gain up to an extra 30 pounds a year because of a hidden food allergy," said Dr. Oz.
The segment acknowledged that this is "a very different kind of food allergy" than the "fast acting, even life threatening attacks," but I'm concerned about the use of the term food allergy in this context.
I think the idea was to create sensationalism, but using the term in this way leads to confusion and distrust. Headlines like this make it harder for those of us trying to explain to teachers, babysitters, restaurant staff, relatives and friends the seriousness of our child's, or our own, food allergies.
By definition, a food allergy is the immune system's abnormal reaction to a food protein which leads to the release of histamine and other chemicals, thereby causing symptoms ranging from mild to life-threatening.
So, I don't believe we need to come up with a new name for food allergies. I do think that all of us, especially writers, bloggers, journalists, TV personalities, and others need to be very mindful of the terms we use. There are many food issues out there: food intolerance, celiac disease, food poisoning, food sensitivity. All of these can be serious and can cause problems, but let's call them by their proper names. Don't say, "I have a food allergy" because it's easier, it sounds trendier, or it gets people's attention. This only leads to articles like "Most People With Food Allergies Don't Have Food Allergies" and "Statistically Speaking Your Food Allergy is Probably a Lie".
Use the correct words. Food allergy is already taken.