Anyone who reads the blog knows that celiac disease is “in” for us—all the time. But recently the Washington Post gave it some love too in “The List” which apparently details what’s in and what’s out for 2010. The only thing that sorta stinks about the list is that it declares celiac “in” at the expense of another serious ailment.

The Washington Post’s article declares that “Journey is out”, “Hall and Oates is in”; “platform sandals are out” and “thigh-high boots are in”; “peanut allergies are out” and “celiac disease is in”. (insert scratching record sound here). What?

Wow! Someone/thing who thinks celiac disease is popular? Could someone please tell the rest of the country and the medical community that?

“In and Out”

I have several feelings about this story. My first is this – yippee! I am more than delighted for someone to say that celiac disease is “in”. If this list raises awareness for the disease that affects 3 million people and isn’t diagnosed for 97% of those Americans. It is important for the general public to hear about celiac disease as often as they hear about peanut allergies.

Second, I don’t want celiac to be “in” at the expense of peanut allergies. Peanut allergies are incredibly dangerous! As Julia Bradsher, chief executive officer of the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, said in her opinion piece which recently was published on the Washington Post’s website,

“A peanut allergy is most certainly not a fad to be categorized as ‘in’ or ‘out.’ It is unfortunate that an institution as venerable as The Post chose to treat it so lightly.”

Peanut allergies often cause an instantaneous gut or anaphylactic reaction for anyone who is exposed by eating or even breathing “peanutty” air. For most celiacs, we can at least be surrounded by gluten (well maybe not if you work in a bakery, pizza place or as a dry waller) and not get sick.

Celiacs also don’t have to carry life-saving medication around with us 24-hours a day if we accidentally ingest gluten. While we would love a pill that lessens our symptoms after getting glutenized, it all pales in comparison to the epi-pen people with peanut allergies have; which, when used, usually includes a trip to the emergency room.

Comparing awareness

With that said, I would like to play a little devil’s advocate here though. I found an article published on medicinenet.com that sourced the British Medical Journal when it reported that peanut allergies affect 1.1% of the population which is about 3 million Americans. Granted the research that was sourced here was from 1996. I concede that the statistic may have changed in the last 14 years, but if it remained roughly the same, that statistic is similar to the numbers of people with celiac disease! I was pretty surprised when I saw that statistic.

Please understand I’m not trying to offend anyone with a peanut allergy, I am just trying to point out the lack of general public awareness of celiac disease in comparison to peanut allergy, despite the two ailments affecting roughly the same number of people. Does anyone else find this shocking? I would have thought many more people had a peanut allergy.

I tried to find a statistic that supported how many people knew about peanut allergies.  But I had no success.  However, in passing, I have found most people have heard of or know what a peanut allergy is. There are peanut-free zones in schools, day cares; many airplanes don’t serve peanuts anymore all because of this allergy. All of this is no doubt because of the dangerous reaction.

But on the celiac side, I found an interesting unscientific poll on Facebook of all places asking people just one question, “Have you ever heard of celiac disease?” Of the respondents 67% had never heard of it. 31% responded yes that they had heard of it. And only one said “Yes…Maybe? I have if it’s that thing where your small intestine gets damaged by your immune system when you eat certain stuff.” I left it in the “maybe” column, although he’s on the right track.

Raising Celiac Awareness

Clearly raising awareness for celiac needs to increase.  Groups like the Celiac Disease Awareness Campaign, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, and the American Celiac Alliance are doing their best to get the word out. But still so many people remain undiagnosed and even more don’t understand what it is.

What can we do? Get involved! Volunteer or be an advocate for celiac disease. Check out these organizations or volunteer with a group closer to you, you may be able to make a difference and create greater public awareness for celiac disease.

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