Time mag asks: Have we gone overboard about nut allergies and kids?

Source of Article:  http://www.examiner.com/x-1146-Seattle-Eastside-Parenting-Examiners~y2009m1d5-Time-mag-asks--Have-we-gone-overboard-about-nut-allergies-and-kids

January 5, 4:10 PM

by Michele Johansen & Lexie Tigre, Seattle Eastside Parenting Examiners


In Time magazine this week is a column that wonders if Americans have gone a little crazy trying to save children from nut allergies.  According to the article, a town in Connecticut cut down three 60 foot tall hickory trees that hung over a woman's property, after she complained they put her grandson, who had nut allergies, at risk.  In Massachusetts, a school bus was evacuated when a lone peanut was found on the floor.  And if you have a child in school right now, you are already familiar with "nut-free zones" in the cafeteria, and rules outlawing peanut butter and other potentially risky foods.

Dr. Nicholas Christakis has decided that all of this is ridiculous.  The evacuation of the school bus actually happened while the Harvard professor's child was on the bus, and it moved him to write a commentary in the British Medical Journal complaining about what he feels has turned into hysteria. 

According to Christakis, about 3.3 million Americans have nut allergies, but only about 150 die each year as a result.   That is about the same as the number of people who die from lightning strikes each year (100).  Other issues, like car accidents (45,000 deaths per year) and accidental gun deaths (1,300 per year) are more pressing, he says.  On top of that, Christakis points out that some research actually suggests keeping kids away from things like nuts may actually increase the risk of developing allergies.

Between 1997 and 2007, food allergies among kids under 18 have increased by 17%, according to the CDC, so this is an issue that is becoming more and more important.  We hear sad stories, like the one from Spokane, WA, where a third-grader died after eating a peanut butter cookie provided by the school in 2001.    And many of us know children with very serious and potentially fatal food allergies.

So how far is too far to go in protecting kids?  Women are encouraged to avoid nuts during pregnancy, and many of my friends did, as a way to prevent allergies in their unborn children.  Parents are told to wait before giving their very  young children certain foods that could cause allergies, like nuts and strawberries.  Some schools ban certain types of food even if no child has an allergy.  In the end, though, according to Dr. Robert Wood, chief of the Pediatric Allergy and Immunology department at Johns Hopkins Children's Center, 95% of kids have no chance of developing peanut allergies, regardless of what they eat.  Less than 1% will get an allergy no matter what we do to prevent it.  With so few really at risk, have we gone too far?

I am lucky that my own daughter has not had any allergy problems.  I grew up with several allergies of my own, but none were life threatening.  If my daughter did have serious allergies, I would do whatever it took to prevent her getting sick.  Even if only 150 people die each year, that doesn't mean going to the ER for a serious reaction isn't terrifying for both the child and the family.  It isn't much of a hardship for me to avoid peanut butter at school if needed.  I would like to have the option if there are no kids at risk, but if a child is known to be severly allergic, I don't mind being part of the village protecting that child.  I would hope others would do the same for mine. 

What do you think?

Read the whole Time magazine article here



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