Two children in every classroom (one out of every thirteen children) now have food allergies. Thirty-nine percent of children with food allergies have experienced a severe or life-threatening reaction. More than thirty percent of children with food allergies are allergic to more than one food. These are just a few of the findings from a study funded by the Food Allergy Initiative and published by Northwestern University in 2011.
It’s time to pay attention. The number of children now estimated to suffer from food allergies is nearly twice what was reported in a 2007 CDC study. Food allergy is no longer the exception it once was.
One of the most difficult situations for parents of food allergic children is the prospect of sending them off to school. As a parent, I believe we all need to do what we can to keep all of our children safe, even if it’s not your own child with the food restrictions. Here are just a few things that you can do:
- Ask the food service staff at your school to stock non-dairy milk alternatives for food allergic students, and to provide gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, and soy-free breads for students who require them.
- Support efforts to eliminate nuts, including peanut butter, from the school. While this particular issue has been a cause of distress for parents who want their non-food-allergic children to be able to bring traditional peanut butter sandwiches to school, it’s important to recognize that students with peanut and tree nut allergies have the highest risk for fatal anaphylaxis.
- Who said birthdays needed to be celebrated with cupcakes? Send fruit and safe snacks for classroom treats instead. Make an effort to find out the food restrictions of the other children in your child’s class and choose snacks accordingly.
- Support the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, introduced in the Senate last year. If passed, the bill would incent states to adopt laws allowing schools to have on hand “stock” epinephrine auto-injectors –epinephrine that is not prescribed specifically to a single student but can be used for any student and staff member in an anaphylactic emergency. Today, only eight states have adopted stock epinephrine laws. During this Food Allergy Awareness Week, I urge you to add your support.