Up to 15% of Irish are food allergic or coeliac – At what cost?

safefood is responsible for promoting food safety and healthy eating in the island of Ireland. They are currently seeking tenders for research into the socioeconomic cost of food hypersensitivity to support the knowledge base in Ireland.

Conservative prevalence estimates of food hypersensitivity in Ireland indicate between 10 to 15% of the population are affected, which translates as up to 900,000 people.

A food hypersensitivity can represent a disproportionate burden on an individual’s (or their family’s) finances, with the costs disproportionately higher in childhood than adulthood. The socioeconomic costs associated with food hypersensitivity can be divided into three categories: direct, indirect and intangible.

Direct and indirect costs are measurable in monetary terms. Direct costs are related to medical bills and the need to maintain a strict avoidance diet, which presents both logistical and financial challenges, including the need to source alternative food products that are free from the ingredient/s that would cause a reaction. Previous research has shown that those with food allergy visit their healthcare professional more times per year and the incurred healthcare costs are therefore greater.

Indirect costs include factors such as lost hours for medical reasons and extra time required for purchasing food, lost productivity and opportunities in employment and education, lost earnings, and more.

Intangible costs are more difficult to measure in monetary terms and are indicated by self-reported health status, loss of well-being and loss of economic welfare experienced as a consequence of having food hypersensitivity. Avoidance diets can cause a lot of anxiety for both the person affected and their families, particularly where the impact of exposure can be severe such as with an anaphylactic food allergy. The cost impact of this heightened anxiety across the whole family is largely intangible.

The research being commissioned by safefood will encompass medically-diagnosed food allergic and coeliac populations, and will investigate the direct, indirect and intangible costs of food allergy and coeliac disease. An estimate of the disease burden attributable to food allergy and coeliac disease in both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland will be an end result of the research.

See the safefood tender document for more details.