For anyone who has a child with food-related allergies, combating the challenges of diet can be very difficult, especially if the allergic reactions are sometimes hard to track, undermarketed or without support in the mainstream. The violent reactions to peanut allergies have even created “peanut free zones” in schools and even at some public areas like ballparks, but finding foods that can be easily consumed at mass events, like ballparks or concerts or fast food restaurants, can be very very challenging. Even more difficult than avoiding foods which cause an allergic reaction is finding hard to eat products that have been created because of a bodies intolerance of certain substances. Sugar or dairy free, sure. Gluten free, now that is a challenge, but one which is growing in exposure thanks to a more healthy lifestyle and some highly recognizable support.
The bold face name support comes in the form of arguably the best tennis player on the planet heading into Roland Garros this week, Novak Djokovic. The Serb, who is at the top of his game, has attributed much of his success to a doctor finding that he has an intolerance to gluten and a form of Celiac Disease, a disorder in which the immune system attacks the small intestine in response to gluten. As a result he has changed his diet, sought out gluten free products and has ascended to the top of the tennis world, feeling more healthy, less sluggish and more fit than at any point in his career. The timing of Djokovic’s story worked well with Celiac Disease Awareness Month kicking off across the United States, with former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon, whose child suffers from the disease, also lending a hand in support. The New York Mets will also host a Gluten Free Night this week, staging promotions and offering products as well in support of research and awareness.
Now none of this happens in a vacuum. It happens because of a strong lobbying force and a passionate group of adults whose children are becoming more and more intolerant of gluten and other food-related issues. It certainly does not hurt to get the support of big names to raise awareness, and sports is a natural fit because of the tendency to have ways to integrate healthy lifestyle messages into the campaign through athletes. Will Djokovic or others find marketing or branding dollars on the gluten free tree? Perhaps. Maybe the support will only be at the grassroots level, which will lead more to research than to product development on the commercial side. Regardless, it seems like Celiac Disease and those with an interest in Gluten Free products have caught a well placed wave this spring, and hopefully can ride that wave into support, funding and awareness using sport as the lynchpin, like so many other causes have done effectively.