Years ago, when I worked in retail, a woman who worked with me was fuming in the break room over an incident that had occurred in her child's school. Her son, allergic to peanuts, was getting no support form the school. She wanted there to be a ban on peanuts and peanut butter in her schools' cafeteria. I remember her mentioning that he had touched a table where another kid had eaten his peanut butter sandwich, and her child had to be admitted to the hospital because of a severe reaction that included shortness of breath.
Since then, I've known several other parents whose children are allergic to peanuts (and many of them have been allergic to other foods as well). I've also seen more awareness surrounding this issue. Yet, in my child's school, they serve peanut butter and jelly as regular fare. I can't help but wonder (first off) why so many youngsters have this horrible allergy and (secondly) why more schools aren't opting out of allowing peanuts or peanut butter in the school.
I am certain no principal or lunch room monitor wishes any ill will to the children they care for. I know that some schools have designated areas for those with food allergies (as my son's preschool did). But a friend of mine points out that it's unfair to alienate children based on their health concerns.
And she's right.
So what is the answer? According to a 2008 article in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/1998/09/23/nyregion/nothing-s-safe-some-schools-ban-peanut-butter-as-allergy-threat.html?pagewanted=1), some schools are banning peanut butter and other possible contaminants in their schools. I feel for the parents whose children without food allergies will only eat peanut butter, but after all, rushing a child to ER is far worse than a child nursing a growling tummy.
As for my other question...why are so many children allergic to peanuts?
The Mayo Clinic points out that if a child has one type of food allergy, they are likely to be allergic to other foods. Likewise, if a child has other allergies such as hay fever, they are more likely to have a food allergy as well (2 to 4 times as likely, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Also, if there are food allergies in the family, one is more likely to have a child with a food allergies. Also, if a child has eczema, it increases the odds that the child will have a food allergy.
Why? Let's think about this. When your immune system discovers an enemy it rages a battle against the offender, thus protecting us from harm. Great for when you come down with the common cold. Not so great when it mistakenly identifies peanut protein as an enemy.
I have heard studies that pregnant women should avoid peanuts/peanut butter, that it raises the possibility of having a child with peanut allergies. Rest assured, I ate heavy amounts of peanut butter with both my children (and during nursing them) and as of this moment in time, they eat peanuts and peanut butter without a problem. I'd be curious to know how many other moms-to-be ate peanuts and peanut butter during pregnancy, and whether or not their children developed allergies to it. In other words...is there really a cause and effect, whether on the pro or con side of consuming peanut butter during pregnancy? (Besides the added weight gain, of course.)
According to an FDA docket, between 1997 and 2002, peanut allergies doubled in the U.S. You may also be interested to know that in 2001 a study mentioned in the same docket showed that restaurants contributed to almost half of fatalities related to food allergies. Almost half! Is it any wonder that school wouldn't want to ban peanut butter from their menus? Granted, it's been 9 years since that docket was produced, but it serves to show one can't be too careful when it comes to serving food to unsuspecting people.
Here are the 8 most common food allergies, according to the FDA:
3. Fish (e.g., bass, flounder, cod)
4. Crustacean shellfish (e.g. crab, lobster, shrimp)
5. Tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans)
If you find yourself itching red welts across your body after consuming one of these products, it's likely you have a food allergy.
Please note that cashew allergies in children have risen as well. And that a third of children who are allergic to cashews are allergic to pistachios. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3 million school-aged kids in the U.S. had a food allergy in 2007. That's a lot of children. The CDC cited that 1 in 4 children have a food allergy of some type. Scary, isn't it? Mind you, not all allergies are life-threatening. But they can be.
Again, no one knows what the causes are for the rise in food allergies among children. There are theories such as our diets (after all, more and more chemicals and alterations are being used at a greater frequency in order to keep food longer on the shelf and to make our produce more abundant). It could be our germ-phobic nature (our immune system has less to fight off when we are constantly washing everything in anti-bacterial gels and soaps, therefore it attacks with friendly fire, so to speak). But it may also be a reason we can not yet foresee. Perhaps many decades in the future, peanuts will be up there with poisonous mushrooms and berries. Something we can no longer eat. Another way that humans continue to evolve, mother nature having her way with us again.
Meanwhile, if you have a child with food allergies, consider joining FAAN (www.foodallergy.org). They give you a support system as well as tips to make life easier.