By Allergen Bureau

Spotlight on Food Allergy in the Middle East

The prevalence of allergic diseases in the Middle East Region is said to be rapidly increasing, while food allergy knowledge in the population is lacking. Recent studies have delved deeper into prevalence and knowledge of food allergies in Saudi Arabia.

A recent study sought to assess food allergy knowledge and attitudes among Jeddah population in Saudi Arabia. Using the Chicago Food Allergy Research Survey for the General Public (CFARS-GP), researchers recruited individuals of Jeddah population aged 18 years old and above via targeted social media.

A total of 510 individuals completed the survey. The respondents answered 56 per cent of the knowledge-based items correctly. Knowledge was strongest in symptoms/severity and definition/diagnosis, while it was weakest in susceptibility and prevalence, distinction between food allergy and intolerance, and food allergy management. Higher knowledge was significantly associated with prior training in food allergy, food-allergic acquaintance (i.e., having food allergy or knowing someone with food allergy), and being a relative of a health care worker.

Targeted educational interventions are proposed as a possible way to improve food allergy knowledge among the general population.

A further study sought to explore the prevalence of food allergy among adults in the Makkah region of Saudi Arabia. A descriptive, cross-sectional, survey-based study was conducted online via Twitter, WhatsApp, and Snapchat. The collected data related to socio-demographics (age and gender), whether the participant had been medically diagnosed with any food allergies, and if so, to which foods.

Just over 17 per cent of the 531 people screened positive for food allergy, with 65 per cent of those being female and almost 38 per cent aged 40– 59.

Egg was the predominant allergen (47%), followed by seafood (44%), fruits (40%), nuts and legumes (37%), milk and dairy products (25%), vegetables (17%), sesame (11%), wheat (9%), soy (8%). Two per cent were allergic to chili peppers, and 1 per cent were allergic to each honey and chocolate.

The self-reported nature of the online questionnaire may bias the result as the patients’ understanding, standards, and feelings may have influenced their responses.

Reference 1: Takrouni AA et al. (2022) Knowledge gaps in food allergy among the general public in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: Insights based on the Chicago food allergy research survey. Front. Allergy 3:1002694. DOI: 10.3389/falgy.2022.1002694.

Reference 2: Alotiby AA, Alrashidi HE. Prevalence of Food Allergy and Common Food Allergen Among Saudi Adults in Makkah Region, Saudi Arabia. J Asthma Allergy. 2022 Dec 28;15:1851-1859. DOI: 10.2147/JAA.S394526. PMID: 36597477; PMCID: PMC9805737.