"They Thought I was Just Joking About It": Experiences and Perceptions of Food Allergy in New Canadians from Asia
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Perceived increased prevalence and levels of awareness of food allergy has become a global phenomenon, making it a major public health concern. Although little is known about its etiology or prevalence, substantial variation in prevalence on a global scale is evident. Studies on food allergy in Asia are reporting an increase in prevalence, particularly in economically developed regions like Hong Kong. Interestingly, risk perception studies have found that Canadians’ perceived prevalence of food allergy surpasses systematic estimates. Moreover, Canadian immigrants are more likely to rate the risk of food allergy as “high” compared to non-immigrants. To explore these issues further, qualitative interviews were conducted with key informants (n=3) and allergic individuals of Asian descent (n=18) in order to capture their lived experience with food allergies. Interviews lasted 30 minutes on average and they were tape recorded and transcribed verbatim for subsequent thematic analysis using QSR International’s NVivo 9. Results are organized around four major themes: perceived prevalence, risk perception, management and coping, and quality of life. With respect to perceived prevalence and risk, participants found food allergies to be more common in Canada than in Asia. Participants also agreed that having a food allergy is more manageable in Canada as a result of the policy environment (e.g., food labelling and school board policies). In addition, participants had dealt with skepticism and disbelief about their food allergy in Asia, impacting their quality of life. These findings demonstrate the need to recognize the varied impacts and experiences of food allergy among new Canadians, given that immigrants represent a large and growing proportion of the Canadian population.