This week marks the 21st annual Food Allergy Awareness Week and it’s possible that you saw some coverage or social media posts, then didn’t think about allergy awareness again.
But let me give you at least one reason to think about allergies and how they affect us. Did you know that 32 million Americans suffer from serious or life-threatening food allergies? Were you aware that number translates to about one in every 13 children — roughly two in every U.S. classroom? And every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room.
So why don’t more people know about the food allergy epidemic we’re currently facing? Sure, the average parent, teacher and student has heard of Food Allergy Research and Education’s (FARE) “Teal Pumpkin Project,” aimed at identifying allergy-safe houses on Halloween, but most are unaware of this ever-growing public health crisis.
Yep, that’s right; many in the health and food allergy field have elevated the food allergy epidemic to the level of a public health crisis to which there is no cure. Since 2016, food allergy insurance claims have increased across the U.S. by 377%. In this battle to find a cure, it’s become even more important to make sure that organizations like FARE and their counterparts are equipped to properly message this crisis so that it becomes more widely known by the general public.
For an interesting comparison, there are roughly a million patients that suffer from MS in the U.S. While this is a huge number of those who endure the disease, there are fewer individuals with MS compared to those who suffer allergies; yet, the disease’s media attention far outweighs that of food allergies by nearly 10 thousand pieces of coverage in the past year. By no means do we think MS should be getting less coverage; however, food allergy awareness organizations should be working to get more attention and coverage around this cause too.
In taking a deeper dive into the coverage of these two issues, it’s clear that making the most of moments in time and valuable spokespeople are important for boosting awareness.
Looking at the coverage spikes between MS and food allergies, we see almost identical coverage trajectories — with mirror peaks and valleys throughout the year. The difference comes in the level of coverage. In total, MS has 17,590 pieces of coverage in the last year, whereas food allergy stories have only 7,773. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has 681 pieces of coverage, with FARE having only 212.
We can draw a couple of conclusions based on these coverage patterns:
- The general population does not fully recognize food allergies as a serious public health epidemic.
- The general public and media do not see MS in the same vein that they see food allergy.
- Heightened awareness of the food allergy epidemic depends on a successful communications strategy.
In increasing coverage and, in turn, awareness, of the food allergy epidemic, we must develop strong communications campaigns. First, it will be important to create a media and publicity campaign for food allergy awareness. FARE is building awareness momentum for the food allergy epidemic. Contains: Courage, FARE’s five-year campaign highlights the courage needed by the tens of millions of Americans dealing with food allergies every day and is one small part of the larger effort to create a buzz around food allergies. The goal of this campaign and the efforts of other food allergy organizations is to educate the general population on the daily battle of avoiding a life-threatening allergic reaction and emphasize the daily burden on food allergy patients to ensure their own safety with such a lack of treatment.
A campaign alone, though, is not enough to raise the visibility of an issue like this. As part of the campaign, food allergy awareness organizations need to ensure that they have valuable and relevant spokespeople to add a personal touch and uplevel the impact of this campaign. Using a two-pronged approach will be important here. Giving voice to the average person, or child, with food allergies, will make sure that the issue hits home. However, to get national attention, it will make a huge difference to have a celebrity involved with the campaign — obviously easier said than done.
If you think about all of the public health campaigns that have garnered national attention and developed a strong following, it’s the way they have communicated the problem at hand that has made the real difference. The more people who know and understand a health issue as important as a food allergy, the greater the level of donations, empathy from the public and desire to get involved.
The food allergy epidemic will reach the awareness level of other health crises, only as the existing communications strategy expands and stakeholders assist organizations in the important work to make this more widely known.