Cost of food allergies tops €1,600, new research shows

Adults and children bear burden of allergies, according to study on financial impact of hyper-sensitivities

The high price paid by people with food allergies has been laid bare for the first time with adults with allergies likely to spend over €1,600 more each year than those with no allergies, according to fresh research from the State’s food safety watchdog.

For the first time, the safefood-funded research put the financial and physical cost of living with food hypersensitivities including allergy, intolerance and coeliac disease under the microscope.

It is estimated the financial burden for a child is €1,439 rising to €1,602 for an adult. Medical costs, costs associated with food, and the cost of missed days from work, school or college all contributed to the significantly higher cost of living.

The cost is not, however, purely financial, it concludes, with those with food hypersensitivities also likely to report a lower health status or quality of life with significantly higher levels of pain and discomfort as well as higher levels of anxiety and depression.

The research led by the Technological University Dublin and Queen’s University Belfast also found 71 per cent of the adult costs, or €1,141, were borne by the individual with the remaining 29 per cent shared with the health services.

For parents of food allergic children, 35 per cent or €499 of the costs were out-of-pocket with the remaining 65 per cent or €940 shared with the health service.

Coeliac disease

For those with coeliac disease, the associated extra costs were €438 a year for an adult and €1,033 for a child with the higher costs primarily due to medical expenses, health insurance and missed days from work, school or college.

Approximately 37 per cent of the higher costs for adults and 25 per cent of the higher costs for children were related to food.

“For the first time in Ireland, we now have reliable and locally relevant figures for the true cost of living with a food allergy, food intolerance or coeliac disease,” said interim chief executive of safefood Dr Gary A Kearney. “Collectively, these conditions affect at least one in 10 of the population and symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening. What is clear from the research is that living with these conditions is a financial burden for individuals and their families.”

Lead researcher Dr Ciara Walsh, of the School of Food Science and Environmental Health at TU Dublin, said the research also looked at the non-monetary or “intangible” costs involved to determine how quality of life can be affected by a food hypersensitivity.

“The people we surveyed reported a lower health status or quality of life. They had significantly higher levels of pain and discomfort, while anxiety and depression were common among adults and adolescents,” she added.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast