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That’s Ms. Peanut-Allergy Nazi to you

Submitted by on Wednesday, 3 December 2008 8 Comments

Everyone’s entitled to an opinion.

Everyone should be obligated to check out the facts before forming half-cocked opinions.

Unfortunately, that’s not what happened in an opinion piece posted this week at investors.com under the headline, The War on Peanuts.

“North Carolina is the fifth-largest peanut grower in the U.S., yet peanut-allergy nazis have persuaded even officials in that state to crack down on PB&Js,” it begins.

The piece starts by criticizing a school district that asked parents to pledge to not pack peanuts in their children’s lunches. It did not require it, though. So where’s the crack down?

Chances are, a voluntary pledge might not comply with law if the parents of an allergic child pushed the issue. Though the issue’s not worked its way completely through the court system, there are Office of Civil Rights rulings indicating that peanut allergies are an “extraordinary circumstance” meriting protection for a child. An amendment this fall to the Americans With Disabilities Act made it clear that food-allergic school children are covered.

I could continue going through line-by-line citing unsourced claims: “Another reason for the so-called epidemic is more parents are randomly removing peanuts in their babies’ diets, thereby lowering their tolerance in later years.”

But instead I’ll focus on the “high points.”

“The district’s also shaming parents into washing their kids’ hands in the morning before they go on the bus, lest they transfer the dangerous peanut molecule and endanger a seat mate.”

Personally, I have never been ashamed of washing my kids’ hands. A dangerous peanut molecule did, however, once transfer from a classmate to Big Guy. That’s how we found out he was allergic.

“CDC studies show about 25% of parents think their kids have food allergies when only about 4% really do.”

I hate made-up allergies, too, because they make it harder for people with true allergies to be taken seriously. That 4 percent, though, is 3 million children. There are 700 kids in Big Guy’s school. You want to pick 28 at random and tell them it’s OK to put their lives at risk?

“CDC data show food allergy deaths are extremely rare, with peanut-related deaths almost nonexistent. And kids really at risk of death by peanut carry epi-pens.”

True. “Only” 150 people die a year from food allergies. Three a week’s not so bad. Another 2,000 people are hospitalized, but that’s still “only” 38 cases a week.

And kids in our school district are not allowed to carry EpiPens. Big Guy’s remain locked in desks, where I pray someone can get to one in time. At best, an EpiPen gives you time to get to a hospital — it’s not instant or automatic cure. Repeated use also can diminish effectiveness.

Yes, North Carolina grows a lot of peanuts but asking kids to lay off for one meal a day isn’t likely to cause an industry to collapse.

North Carolina also grows a lot of tobacco, but I doubt anyone would encourage smoking around people using oxygen tanks.

Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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  • Libby said:

    Hi Debra,
    I’m still reeling from that editorial and working myself up to a reply. (Ok, I’m actually talking myself down from what I wanted to say.) Thanks for highlighting the, ah, highlights of that piece of nastiness.

  • Rachelima said:

    I read that horrible article, too, and was flooded with anger. How can anything with so many incorrect “facts” can be published? Thanks for forming a well written reply.
    Also – continue fighting about locked EPI Pens at a public school. That is a dangerous and ignorant situation!
    Good luck, Rachelima

  • Melissa White said:

    UGH!!!! I did send a letter to that cruddy site. I also noted that they didn’t even show the name of whoever wrote that trash. Hhhhmmm someone from the peanut board?????

    Sad thing is some idiot will read that crud and believe everything. It was horribly written, did the writer not even care to research both sides.

    My favorites are:
    *asthma and allergies are the same thing.
    *washing hands is shameful
    *the reason my child is allergic to peanuts is because I didn’t feed them to my child the first 6 months of life…WOW!!! I didn’t even know that scientist figured out the cause of allergies, thanks mystery writer for breaking the news to us, you are awesome! Of course now I feel bad I didn’t feed my girl breast milk and peanut butter smoothies.


    The CDC figure about parents saying their kids have allergies that they don’t, is real. I used to work at a daycare and several parents thought their child had an allergy. When I asked if they had actually been tested, they said “no, it isn’t that bad.” It does a horrible disservice to us that have a child with an allergy that is “that bad,” because their lack of diligence results in caretakers, teachers, etc not taking the severity of allergies seriously.

  • Debra said:

    Libby: It took me a few days after this showed up in my Google alerts to calm down long enough to write this post. Yes, this is my toned-down version. :)

    Rachelima: I’m waiting on the Epi-Pen fight until Big Guy’s old enough to know what to do with it. He’s only 5. He’s starting to get an idea of how to administer it, because we drill every month, but he’s not quite there yet on self-administration. I’m not sure he’d recognize yet when he’d need it — he hasn’t had a bout with anaphylaxis since he was 10 months. Plus he loses things — two jackets already, and we’re in California so he hasn’t even had to wear a jacket for too long. :) His wonderful kindergarten teacher did agree to keep on in her desk, and she was super-conscious of the need to take it on a recent field trip, so we’re OK for now.

    They also keep the asthma inhalers locked, and I know that’s contrary to California law. That change was made a few years back, after a kid died because no one could get to the locked inhaler. So, yes, I’ll definitely fight when he’s old enough.

    Melissa: That the writer was somehow connected to the industry was my first though. Notice all those pro-peanut stats at the end? Here’s someone who’s concerned that Ms. Peanut-Allergy Nazi is going to blow a sweet government commodity deal with school systems.

    I know people make up allergies, because, ironically, it’s happened in my house. One visitor used to demand that I put my dog outside when she came over because “she was allergic.” Uh, lady, if you were allergic you’d still be sneezing your head off because I can’t just put the dander outside. I know because I’m allergic to dogs and used to sneeze my head off when visiting my parents while on break from college. I only quit after getting a dog, which acting as a furry-four-legged daily injection. :)

    Peanut butter and breast-milk smoothies — dang, why didn’t I think of that? Funny thing is, I have two kids: Exact same upbringing, one severely allergic, the other not. Guess that blows another one of the writer’s theories.

  • Jennifer B said:

    This poor investors.com author doesn’t know his subject at all. I don’t know where he obtained his information. It is yet another reminder that there are people who really do hold those views, who really are that uninformed, and that we must keep advocating awareness.

  • Debra said:

    You’re right. It is a sobering reminder. I’ve gotten so used to my little world where day-care teachers are diligent and kindergarten teachers helpful that I sometimes forget this attitude exists.

    As much guff as I caught before and immediately after Big Guy was diagnosed, you’d think it would be burned in my brain, though.

    And clearly that editorial writer didn’t know the subject. I think the “information” was partly CDC statistics spun into what the writer wanted them to say.

    The line that gave me the biggest laugh was where the writer encouraged schools to do their own research instead of giving in to exaggerated claims. I wish the writer had done exactly that.

  • Tracy said:

    My daughter is severely allergic to peanuts and we have had a horrible time with her teacher this year. She put a “peanut free environent sign” up and has brought in Butterfingers and Reese’s peanut butter chips for the class. She also ignores our requests to inform us in the planning stages of any food events and has had lunch catered by Chick Fil A. (fry in peanut oil) My daughter got nothing for reading her 100 books! She has also fed her fudge without permission and scheduled a cookie exchange (absolute nightmare for us). After we went to the vp about the final straw (Reese’s chips) she removed the sign. Any suggestions for how to deal with this?

  • Debra said:

    Tracy, I’m so sorry for the situation you and your child are enduring. My Big Guy has a great kindergarten teacher and school administration who have made life so much easier for him. I can’t imagine the agony of your experiences.

    Keeping in mind that I’m neither a doctor nor lawyer, here is what I would do.

    1. Have your doctor – pediatrician or allergist, though the allergist might have more sway — write a letter to the school explaining your daughter’s condition in as simple, non-medical terms as is possible for a physician. :) Perhaps the doctor would even let you draft a letter as a starting point.

    I would have the doctor include the diagnosis in layman’s terms: She’s allergic to peanut to the point that exposure could cause death. Then I’d go into what’s meant by “exposure.” In Big Guy’s case, we know he’s contact allergic (and the doctor will have to explain “contact allergic”) but not allergic to the dander.

    2. Also include a letter citing what needs to happen in the classroom/cafeteria for your daughter to be safe. In Big Guy’s classroom, for example, there are no snacks with peanuts or peanut butter, though the other children can bring them in their lunch to be consumed in the cafeteria. In the cafeteria, he sits at a separate peanut-free table at which no children with peanuts or peanut butter in their lunches sit.

    Explain that the Americans With Disabilities Act is on your side: It’s a 2008 update, so perhaps they genuinely aren’t aware of it.

    3. I don’t know where you are geographically, but you might try searching the Internet or asking around to see how other districts in your state have handled the issue. This is not a new issue: I bet there’s some precedent in your support that you could site.

    4. Ask for a meeting with the principal (since talking to the vice principal doesn’t appear to have helped much) and the school nurse if applicable. Keep it as positive as you can — and I know that will be hard when you feel like you’ve been teacher-tortured all year. Explain that you’re not trying to castigate the teacher, even if that IS what you feel like doing. Explain that you’re merely trying to work out a situation where your daughter can be safe in school, and you’re sure that’s what they want as well. Because they do, if for no other reason than they don’t want the liability of something awful happening due to their negligence.

    If that doesn’t work, go to the district office. If that doesn’t work, go to the superintendent. If that doesn’t work, go to the school board. If that doesn’t work, go to the local media.

    Hope this helps! Best of luck to you and your daughter.