a1 CSIRO Food Futures National Research Flagship, Adelaide BC, South Australia, Australia
a2 CSIRO Food Futures National Research Flagship, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
a3 School of Psychology, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, SA 5005, Australia
Objective To assess the prevalence of and explanations for wheat avoidance, including reported symptoms, diagnoses and information sources influencing the decision to avoid wheat, and to investigate potential psychological predictors of this behaviour.
Design Cross-sectional population survey.
Setting The study was conducted in Australia, using a nationwide postal omnibus survey.
Subjects Adults aged 18 years and over (n 1184; 52·9 % female) selected at random from the Australian Electoral Roll.
Results With cases of stated and suspected coeliac disease (1·2 %) excluded, 7·3 % of the sample reported adverse physiological effects, predominantly gastrointestinal, that they associated with wheat consumption. Few among this group (5·7 %) claimed a formally diagnosed intolerance or allergy requiring avoidance of wheat-based foods. Symptomatic wheat avoidance was highly correlated with dairy avoidance and predicted by gender (female), lesser receptiveness to conventional medicine and greater receptiveness to complementary medicine, but not by neuroticism, reasoning style or tendency to worry about illness.
Conclusions The data indicate that many adult Australians are consciously avoiding consumption of wheat foods, predominantly without any formal diagnosis. Reported symptoms suggest a physiological but not allergenic basis to this behaviour. Questions to be answered concern whether symptoms are attributed correctly to wheat, the agents (wheat components, dietary factors or additives) and physiological mechanism(s) involved, the nutritional adequacy of avoiders’ diets, and the clinical and psychosocial processes that lead a substantial number of adults to avoid consuming wheat (or any other dietary factor) apparently independently of a medical diagnosis.
(Received August 08 2013)
(Revised February 28 2014)
(Accepted March 13 2014)
(Online publication April 17 2014)