Celeb diet fads fuel rise in food intolerances

Article date: 12 January 2006

A growing number of Brits are excluding vital foods from theirdaily diets because of fears of allergies and intolerances, sayGPs, and research suggests that well-documented celebrity food fadsare to blame for people self-diagnosing these conditions.

The UK has seen a sharp rise in the number of cases of foodallergies and intolerances, but GPs warn that cutting out importantfoods without medical advice could do more harm than good.

Figures from Norwich Union Healthcare’s latest‘Health of the Nation Index’, a survey of 250 GPsnationwide, reveal:

  • 63% of GPs have seen an  increase in patients reporting afood intolerance in the last year
  • However, nearly three quarters (73%) of doctors believe thattheir patients’ reactions are psychological not physical andhave no obvious explanation or cause

But according to GPs, excluding important foods such as wheatand dairy from our diet is potentially harmful and should not beundertaken without proper consultation.

The evidence suggests that many people are diagnosing themselveswith the help of gossip mags and the television rather than fromconsultations with trained professionals.

  • 22% of people first heard of food intolerances and allergiesthrough celebrity interviews, magazines and TV shows*
  • 19% of people heard of them through friends and family*

With information coming from various sources lacking in medicalcredibility, it’s no surprise that there is confusion aroundthe issue. In fact, 94% of GPs believe that people don’tknow the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerancewhile up to a quarter of people believe they have a foodintolerance or know someone who does. Without proper medicaladvice, GPs and experts are warning against exclusion dietsassociated with some of the most frequently reported intolerances,including:

  • Wheat intolerance – as suffered by Rachel Weisz and GeriHalliwell (identified by 23% of people)
  • Dairy intolerance – as suffered by Orlando Bloom andVictoria Beckham (identified by 21% of people)
  • Gluten intolerance – as suffered by CarolVorderman
    (identified by 19% of people)
  • Lactose intolerance – as suffered by Rachel Hunter
    (identified by 18% of people)

Nutritionist and registered dietitian Jill Scott explains:“Food allergies and intolerances can be serious forindividuals who are affected. Whilst it’s encouraging thatawareness of this issue is improving, it’s crucial thatpeople don’t jump to conclusions based on what they’veheard or read. Excluding particular food groups can upset abalanced and healthy diet. Avoiding dairy products for example mayresult in low calcium intake, which can in the long run affect bonehealth. We strongly recommend that anyone with good reason tobelieve they may be suffering an intolerance or food allergy seeksout professional advice.”

Roger Taylor, Research Director at Dr Foster who carried out theresearch, said: “Health information in magazines can often bemisleading or fail to give a properly balanced picture. Peopleshould think first about whether they have a properly balanced dietand if they are concerned about allergies or food intolerance seekthe advice of a dietitian or their GP”.

Dr Doug Wright, clinical spokesperson for Norwich UnionHealthcare, continues: “Individual digestive patterns anddietary needs are completely unique and varied. Whilst many of uswill be thinking of starting the New Year on a diet, before doingso it’s crucial we understand how what we eat affects us andthe potentially harmful side effects of not eating certain foodgroups. There are plenty of resources, online or elsewhere, to helppeople better understand how food works and how to eat as healthilyas possible.”

To help people better manage intolerances and allergies, JillScott has put together the following suggestions:

  • Be clear on the differences between food allergies andintolerances. A food intolerance is any adverse reaction tospecific foods not usually involving the immune system, whereasallergies activate the body’s immune system
  • Visit Norwich Union’s www.personalhealthmanager.co.ukfor more information on intolerances and allergies and theirsymptoms
  • If problems persist, it is important to visit your GP to betested
  • If excluding certain foods, ensure you consult goodprofessional advice on how to maintain an enjoyable, healthy andbalanced diet
  • Use food labels to help identify problem ingredients


Media contacts: 
Chris Lauwerys or Emilie Lien, Lexis Public Relations on 020 79086488.

Norwich Union Press Office contacts:
Lorna Wiltshire: 020 7662 1013 or 07800 695 150
James Evans: 01904 452 791 or 07800 699 525

Notes to editors:
Case studies available on request. 

Norwich Union Healthcare commissioned Dr Foster to conductresearch amongst approximately 250 practicing GPs from across theUK in September 2005.

*ICM Research interviewed a random sample of 1000 adults aged18+ by telephone between 3-4 December 2005.  Interviews wereconducted across the country and the results have been weighted tothe profile of all adults.  ICM is a member of the BritishPolling Council and abides by its rules.  Further informationat www.icmresearch.co.uk

About Norwich Union Healthcare

  • Norwich Union Healthcare was founded in 1990 as the healthcarearm of Norwich Union and now provides a range of income protectionand private medical insurance products that cover over 870,000lives. It is one of the largest providers of income protection andprivate medical insurance in the UK.
  • Norwich Union Healthcare is authorised and regulated by theFinancial Service Authority and is a member of the Association ofBritish Insurers and the Financial Ombudsman Service.
  • Norwich Union’s news releases and a selection of imagesare available from Aviva’s internet press centre at www.aviva.com/media.

About Dr Foster

  • Dr Foster is the leading independent authority on healthcarequality in the UK.  It publishes information that isaccessible to the general public and provides information analysisto the professional healthcare community. 
  • An independent Ethics Committee with substantial powers toenforce editorial and research integrity oversees theorganisation.
  • Further information is available at www.drfoster.co.uk

Back to top