Why Food Allergies Affect All of Us

Here’s the line in our food-allergies story in the September issue, “The New Food Rules,” that stopped me:

One-quarter of reactions at school occur in kids who have never been diagnosed with an allergy.

As our advisor Hugh Sampson, M.D., director of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai Medical Center, in NYC, explains it, all of our children are vulnerable to a food allergy. More specifically, “Any person who’s had a mild allergic reaction has the potential to have a major reaction in the future. But we still have no good way of predicting who will have such reactions or when they will occur,” says Dr. Sampson.

Our story offers smart food guidelines for all parents: those who are new or expecting, those whose child has been diagnosed, and those who know a child with a food allergy. One of the most important rules every parent can enforce is to teach your child to respect the way other kids eat. As if it’s not already hard enough for children with food allergies–monitoring and restricting their diet every minute of the day–many of them are targets of ridicule and teasing. One parent in our story recalled how her son didn’t want to invite two boys to his birthday party, boys who’d previously been his good friends, because they’d been telling him at recess that they wanted to put peanut butter on him to see what would happen.

Because at least one-third of children have been bullied for their food allergies, the nonprofit Food Allergy & Research Education (FARE) created a video to raise awareness. In just 30 seconds, you’ll get how serious–and scary–this problem is.

FARE was instrumental in the passage of the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, which gives financial incentives to states with schools that stock epinephrine, the medication that can halt a life-threatening allergy. FARE had championed the legislation since 2011, and in 2012 brought parent advocates to Capitol Hill to help convince Congress to pass it. Among those parent advocates was the mother of Amarria Johnson, a Virginia first-grader who died after eating a peanut. She’d had a known nut allergy, but no prescription epinephrine pen at school, and Virginia’s policy discouraged educators from giving a child a medicine that was prescribed for someone else. Had the new law been in place, the school nurse could have given one of the spare medications, and Amarria may have lived.

Beyond advocacy, FARE offers parents and children many free resources to help them navigate life with a food allergy. It addresses nearly every aspect of life, from childcare to camp to eating out and more. Because my children’s friends have food allergies, I’ve gotten a lot out of the Food Allergy Field Guide, and I recommend it as a good starting point for any parent who wants to feel more prepared the next time they’re hosting a child who has allergies.

Food Allergies: Helping Your Child Cope
Food Allergies: Helping Your Child Cope
Food Allergies: Helping Your Child Cope

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