Allergies in the Media

Now that the number of food allergy sufferers is increasing, more and more media coverage is being devoted to the topic. Some of this coverage is positive and some is negative. Some of it is strictly news-related and some is much more opinionated. Today, we’re going to take a look at some of these pieces and why they’re so important.

Firstly, we have this article from the Science News site. As the title of the page (and the categorization of the article itself) suggests, “Liquid mouth drops could one day protect people from peanut allergies” is an example of an objective news article. It discusses the relatively new therapy for peanut allergy called sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT). I know I can trust this article because of three main factors:

  1. The information is available elsewhere. When I google SLIT, I see many other articles that confirm the existence of this treatment, the reasons it is different from the similar treatment OIT, and the FDA’s current stance on it.
  2. The information comes from a trustworthy source. Science News is a long-running, respected non-profit organization that puts out a magazine as well as their news and opinion articles. They are up-front about what they believe and information about their site is available on Wikipedia.
  3. Many sources are included in the article and it is free from spelling and grammatical errors. The author clearly did their research. They linked to the websites they got their information from (sites such as AAP News and The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology) and also quoted a first-hand account from a mother who gave the treatment to her son. This helps to prove that the author values transparency and desires to report the truth.

Another example of a news article is this one, “Viaskin Peanut Patch Submitted to FDA for Approval Consideration”, posted on the Allergic Living website. Although not a traditional medical website, the source is devoted to posting reliable information about allergies and those who live with them (after all, if they published unreliable information, it could cost people their lives and the site would be quickly shut down). The source can be considered news rather than opinion largely because of the things I listed above–the information can be confirmed elsewhere, it comes from a trustworthy website that has a history of similarly reliable information, and it uses objective language. However, the site could improve their reliability by citing more sources outside of their own articles, however well-researched those articles may be.

On the other hand, let’s look at an opinion/analysis article called “Why European Restaurants Are Much More Vigilant About Food Allergies” from NPR. It’s written by Alan Greenblatt, who suffers from a peanut allergy himself. NPR is a generally reliable and trusted source for good information and there’s plenty of facts in this article, but it’s not a news article because the primary purpose is to describe and analyze the author’s own experience with European restaurants and his own allergy rather than simply reporting on, say, the objective and statistical truth of specific restaurant behavior in the UK.

Not only does Greenblatt discuss his own experiences and opinions, he interviews other people who discuss their opinions. These people include a waiter at one of the restaurants he visited and an allergy specialist, straddling the line between news and analysis (but, in the end, landing on the latter side). The article’s categorization, “Food For Thought”, also suggests that this article is an opinion piece.

A second example of an opinion article is Food Dive’s “Ineffective labeling of plant-based food products leads to life-threatening allergic reactions” by Lisa Gable, the current CEO of FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education). Although she has high credentials, this is an opinion article because the subject matter she is discussing can be argued. She is calling for the education of consumers (and companies) in the matter of plant-based diets being labeled poorly for allergens. This is, in her opinion, a very important topic and should be considered so by the powers that be. She backs it up with facts–many plant-based meat substitutes are made up of the top 8 allergens and are not labeled correctly. However, the level of importance of the issue and the timeline and manner in which it should be addressed falls under the category of opinion.

Of course, this is not to say that just because something is an opinion means that it’s incorrect or “bad”. Opinion articles like the two linked above are extremely welcome and important to the overall food allergy discussion. Without well-written and well-researched opinion pieces, allergy sufferers would feel much more alone and the information about these issues would not reach nearly as many people. Opinion pieces are often more powerful to the average person than totally objective news articles, as they are more personable.

The bottom line is that we need both news and opinion articles in order to fully educate the public about serious issues such as allergies. Both serve their own functions, but I find that the best articles come out of the two things merging to form a new, informative, and entertaining whole.

Until next time,