Date of Award

Fall 2011

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Geography

Supervisor

Susan J. Elliott

Language

English

Abstract

The Canadian prevalence for all food allergies is estimated to be 7.5%. The only management strategy for an allergic individual is a strict avoidance diet, which is heavily reliant on the effectiveness of food labels used on commercial food products. This thesis explores the effects of food allergen labels on the well-being of affected Canadians, using a social constructionist framework and a mixed methods approach.

The quantitative portion of this study drew upon primary survey data. Respondents were asked to self-report household allergic status, as well as purchasing behavior and attitudes towards precautionary statements (n=1380). Results from the quantitative analysis were used to inform and develop the qualitative interview schedule for the second phase of this thesis. Qualitative interviews in a grocery store setting were conducted with 12 anaphylactic individuals, or parents of anaphylactic children.Respondents were observed during the course of product selection and questioned about their shopping habits, perceptions of and preferences for allergen labels.

Results indicate that current Canadian allergen labels are not as effective as expected, since affected consumers reported not heeding precautionary statements. Allergic families were found to be less diligent than indirectly affected families, and also less likely to find precautionary statements helpful. Through qualitative interviews, it was found that prior experience, not allergen information, is the primary factor guiding purchasing decisions. Even though precautionary statements were found to be easy to understand, terminology, font sizes, and contrast issues on labels were reported to be key areas of improvement. Results from the two phases reflect differences in individuals‟ social constructions of risk, which ultimately shape purchasing and consumption behaviors. This research is the first to explore the effects of allergen labels on affected Canadians, using a social constructionist approach. Ultimately, results will help effective policy change in Canada and help affected consumers make safe consumption choices.

This research contributes to the number of health studies that utilized a mixed methods approach, which is an emerging paradigm. The use of mixed methods allowed for extension and refinement of results. Future research directions identified in this research include the need for pharmaceutical labeling in Canada, as well as the need to explore purchasing behaviors of indirectly affected families, as they also utilize allergen labels to guide consumption choices when shopping for allergy-controlled environments.

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