Is your child a victim of another child’s food allergy?

February 22nd, 2011 by | Permalink

Photo by matsou/istockphoto

Last fall, a study came out about the rise in bullying towards children with food allergies. Of the 353 respondents to the study by The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, nearly a quarter of the parents of children with food allergies who answered said that their children were harassed and bullied about their affliction multiple times. As more awareness about the ramifications of bullying have been the subject of many news stories this past year, it didn’t come as any surprise to me. However, what is surprising is that amongst the reported bullies were teachers, school staff and other parents.

As peanut and food allergies in general are on the rise in western industrialized countries, more and more restrictions are placed on the children without allergies, causing an increased amount of frustration and resentment. One prevailing theory as to the cause and rise of food allergies is the effect of the sanitary bubble we’ve created in wealthier countries. Previously, it was thought that peanut allergies stemmed from past generations eating too much peanut butter, but scientists now believe that because of our ability to control disease and our obsession with cleanliness — coupled with a fatty diet — that our bodies now lack the good bacterias and floras required to tolerate certain foods. This is called the “hygiene theory” and translates to many of our perplexing diseases, infections and allergies today.

My opinion is that the bullying and the policies are two separate issues.

No child should be bullied for any reason. It’s even more of a concern for children with food allergies because some bullying involves the contamination of food or exposing another child to the allergen which can result in anaphylactic shock or even death, but whether you ban the food item or not is not going to stop bullies from picking on children with food allergies. So, bullying needs to be addressed separately.

And part of the resentment, at least in theory, is understandable in my opinion. When schools enact a policy forbidding all food items with nuts (or other allergens), it becomes the responsibility of the parents whose children are without food allergies to strictly monitor their childrens’ diet for a good part of the day as well. Children are in school all day, so it’s not a minor inconvenience. I speak from experience as I constantly have to think about every pot luck my son’s school puts on to be 100% certain I comply with the schools “no nuts” policy.

From Associated Content, a mother of a child with peanut allergies makes an interesting point about the policy, questioning its rationale:

Granted, peanut allergy is an extremely serious allergy and should be handled very carefully and diligently on a daily basis. However, there are other food allergies that can be just as severe. What about children with severe allergies to milk products, wheat, soy or shellfish, to name a few? Are the schools prepared to ban these products as well? Or what about students who are allergic to bee stings? These children can have the same type of life-threatening allergic reaction as children with food allergies. Would there be a ban on recess so the allergic child would not get stung at school? It’s hard to know where to draw the line when it comes to this issue.

As a mother of a child who was born extremely premature and struggles with food sensory issues, the ban on nuts at his school was made even more complicated. One of the few things he would eat as a toddler and Kindergartner was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We tried the soy nut butter, but for some reason, like most foods, his gag reflex was violently triggered with the imitation peanut butters. He went through some pretty extensive therapies to overcome some of those sensory food intolerances, but it was an extremely slow process — one that we still continue to struggle with today, at age 8. Of course, we complied with the rule without question, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that I didn’t have some resentment. That resentment would never translate to the child, as it’s not his fault, but a resentment that something couldn’t be worked out where my son could eat his sandwich in a different room or something. I’m pretty sure our son didn’t eat lunch at school for a whole year he was under the PB&J spell.

I also refrain from having the little boy over because we have too many nut products in my home to allow him to come over safely. While some parents have created nut free environments at their homes in order to accommodate playdates, I have enough going on in my life that I simply cannot make my home an allergy free zone. We have a cat and a dog too, which eliminates another child who is extremely allergic to cats from coming over and I have to say, I’m okay with that.

Again, with food allergies on the rise, there needs to be other solutions other than the total elimination of all potential allergens and triggers. I don’t know what the answer is and hopefully we’ll find a cure sooner rather than later, but if we are going to accommodate some children and not others, there needs to be viable alternatives. As it stands now, it simply isn’t fair to all children to limit their diets. Parents of children with food allergies admit the stress it imposes on them, why extend that stress to all children and parents?

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