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Almost one million Australians may be self-diagnosing wheat intolerance

At the Dietitians Association of Australia National Conference in Brisbane in May Michelle Broom, GLNC Nutrition Program Manager, presented the findings of the GLNC 2011 Consumption and Attitudinal Study related to trends in avoidance of grain foods (1).

The GLNC Study found many Australians may be cutting wheat from their diet based on self diagnosis without seeking guidance from dietitians or nutritionists. The aim of this study was to determine Australians attitudes and behaviours towards grains, particularly reasons for limiting grains in the diet.

A 30 question survey was conducted in 2011 of a nationally representative sample of 1,204 Australians, aged 15–80 years, 44% women. 16% of participants reported limiting or avoiding wheat. Limiting wheat was more common in women (22%) than men (12%). Of those reporting to have a wheat intolerance, self-diagnosis was cited by 35%. Compared to other age groups, 25-34 year olds were significantly more likely to self diagnose. Health care professional diagnosis was reported in 31% of cases, including 5% by a dietitian. The age group most commonly diagnosed by a dietitian was 15-24 years. Only 17% of those limiting wheat in their diet had sought dietary advice from a dietitian or nutritionist. Men and people aged 35-49 were more likely to seek guidance. The true prevalence of wheat intolerance in Australia is not well established. However, this survey indicates potentially 3.6 million Australians are avoiding wheat, with over one million people doing so based on self-diagnosis of intolerance and many are not seeking professional dietary guidance to ensure they are following a healthy, balanced diet.

To prevent people cutting grain foods out of their diet unnecessarily it is essential Australians understand the importance of grain foods in the diet beyond the contribution of carbohydrate. Recent results of the 2011 Australian Health Survey indicate grain based foods are the key contributor of seven key nutrients in the Australian diet including fibre, iron, magnesium, iodine and B vitamins including folate (2).

References

  1. Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council. 2011 Australian Grains and Legumes Consumption and Attitudinal Report. Unpublished: 2011.
  2. ABS. Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results – Foods and Nutrients, 2011-12. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2014.

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