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Home » Health, Kids and Allergies

Food allergies are not just hysteria

Submitted by on Sunday, 18 January 2009 3 Comments
It started with an article in British Medical Journal in which an American doctor claimed parents are in the grip of a "nut hysteria" that is fueling irrational fears about allergic reactions to peanuts.

The doctor, Nicholas Christakis, is well-qualified to comment on what constitutes mass hysteria - he's a professor of medical sociology at Harvard with a record of impressive research.

In this case, though, his journal article was based not on research, but on opinion and anecdotal evidence.

Sadly, the result has been additional artcles worldwide that have led those who believe allergies are medical unicorns to wave the "evidence" and say, "see? It's all in their heads."

"Your kid doesn't have an allergy to nuts. Your kid has a parent who needs to feel special. Your kid also spends recess running and screaming, 'No! Stop! Don't rub my head with peanut butter!' " read one such piece in the Los Angeles Times.

The upshot: Daily articles about how improved labeling laws aren't needed and precautions at school are overkill.

And then a kid died.

Not from a reaction to peanut, mind you, but from a reaction to milk in a juice drink.

Deja was a 7-year-old British boy, and food allergies were a way of life for him his entire short life. His mom taught him to read labels so he could look out for himself. He and his mother both examined the juice drink before buying it.

He went into anaphylaxis after consuming the drink and died at a hospital a short time later.

The company claims milk is listed on the label, but admits a colorful graphic obscured part of the type.  That's contrary to British Food Standards Agency recommendations, which the company pointed out it is not required to follow. The coroner in the case has called for an American-style allergen box warning on all British foods.

Not that the helps on our side of the pond. Manufacturers play fast and loose even with the lax standards we do have.

Funny, though, how columnists aren't mentioning the problems that lack of clear, accurate labels cause.

"We probably don't need to ban peanuts from schools or put warnings on every product saying it was 'made in a factory that also has a break room where a guy named Dave often sneaks in a King Size Snickers despite this 'diet' he says he's on.' "

You're right - I really don't need to know if Dave cheated on his diet. But I do need to know if there's a chance there's peanut in what my kid is about to eat.

Hysteria? No, simply a need for information that could save a life.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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3 Comments »

  • Maria Hardy said:

    I love your writing. My 3 year old daughter also has severe food allergies, including garlic too. I have said many times that it is the hardest allergy and if she ever just gets to only a peanut allergy someday, life will be a piece of “cake”! Thank you for writing on all the latest drama, it’s a bit out of hand now, but it’s so misunderstood any press is good press. One misinformed article, like Dr. Christakis’, can harm a lot of progress by parents and years of research by esteemed medical researchers like Dr. Robert Wood, who recently submitted a rebuttal to the LA Times article and is actually working everyday to improve thousands of lives. I don’t reject an opinion from Dr. Christakis’, but I think he failed to take a step back and ask – why are these measures in place and why do parents of these children request such safety requirements? A great answer from a member of my support group is that the hassle for us and others is the price for safety, just like so many other things in this world today. I found your info on food colors interesting as my daughter has been having trouble with asthma now too. Pretty scary. I’ll be watching your blog here, many thanks!

  • Debra said:

    Oh, I hear you on the garlic allergy, Maria.

    Egg, I’m pretty adept at working around, and it really doesn’t take that much extra effort. Peanut, easily avoided, in the home at least. But garlic is everywhere. Or maybe not, but you can’t tell it from the generic ingredient listing of “spices.”

    I think the only worse possible allergy would be corn. We had a brief bout with corn-free, when we feared Boots might be allergic. It’s also everywhere, and, like garlic, they don’t have to label for it because it’s not among the Big Eight.

    So I wind up making taco sauce, marinara, chicken nuggets and many other “convenience” foods.

    I missed Dr. Woods’ rebuttal. I’ll have to look it up. That original was just ridiculous!

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