Food Allergies and Food Bans: Are they too much?Robin Aronson
A panel of experts at The National Institute of Allergies and Infection Disease has released new guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of food allergies. What do the experts say? Banning foods like peanuts and peanut butter is an overreaction to a medical condition that too often goes self-diagnosed.
The National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Disease puts the rate of allergies in kids at 6 to 8 percent. It’s about 4 percent in adults. But those are the numbers of people diagnosed with food allergies, which is probably not the same as the number of people who thin they, or their kids, have food allergies.In an NPR story on the new food allergy guidelines, Sami Bahna, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, says, “Many patients claim food allergy without having them.” Why? People can have physical reactions to foods that demonstrate a food intolerance — such as lactose intolerance — but that’s not the same as a food allergy.
To diagnose an allergy, a patient would have a pin-prick or blood test. This tells you if the body is developing an anti-body to a food, not whether a person would have a physical reaction to that antibody. To test for a physical reaction, you would have to have a food challenge test in which the patient would have to eat some of the food in question in a doctor’s office and then you see what happens.
Sounds like fun, right? No wonder people don’t have that test. But not having it means a lot of people over estimate their risk, hence the food bans.
How do we know people think they’re more allergic than they are? The NPR story gives an example:
“A couple of years ago, researchers at National Jewish Health in Denver conducted “food challenge” tests on 125 children with allergies and eczema and found that more than 50 percent of the kids could actually tolerate foods they were told to avoid….”
So how much is too much when it comes to banning foods in schools and classrooms?
A while back on Tablet, I read an essay by Marjorie Ingall on how to manage food allergies. She writes:
“Are there children who are so desperately allergic they can’t be in a room with nuts? Absolutely. Are they common? Doubtful. I say this as someone who is allergic enough to have stopped breathing, lost consciousness, and required intubation. Once, after I made out with my college boyfriend after he’d eaten a walnut brownie in the cafeteria, my lips swelled up so much I looked like Amanda Lepore. Yet I tested only at level 4 (on a scale of 0 to 6) on the blood test that determines just how allergic you are. My doctor said that in over 30 years of practice, he’s never seen a 6. Here’s my proposition: If you can produce test results saying your kid is a 4, you get a nut-free table in the classroom. If your kid is a 5, you get a nut-free school. And if your kid is a 6, you get whatever you want, because that blows. (As an aside: All parents of allergic kids should teach them to be judicious about swapping spit and eating while drunk—it sounds like a joke, but adolescence was when I had to learn new lessons about living with a serious allergy.)”
This seems like an entirely reasonable approach to me. You don’t even need a food challenge test to follow it.
What do you think? Should peanut butter and jelly just be banned from schools no matter what? Should food bans be case by case?
photo credit: thenutfactory.com
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