Nut allergy fears becoming hysterical: BMJ
By Stephen Daniells, 10-Dec-2008
Source of Article: http://www.foodnavigator.com/Science-Nutrition/Nut-allergy-fears-becoming-hysterical-BMJ
Fears over the dangers of peanut allergy, a potentially deadly allergy for certain people, are becoming sensationalist and hysterical, according to a Harvard professor.
approach is needed before the situation spirals out of control, wrote
Professor Nicolas Christakis from
The food industry is already bound by certain regulations, depending on the country, to highlight possible allergens in a food product, such as the EU’s Labelling Directive 2000/13/EC.
But Prof Christakis said that such an approach, however well intentioned, may actually “fan the flames, since they signal to parents that nuts are a clear and present danger.
“This encourages more parents to worry, which fuels the epidemic. It also encourages more parents to have their children tested, thus detecting mild and meaningless ‘allergies’ to nuts. And this encourages still more avoidance of nuts, leading to still more sensitisation.
“The cycle of increasing anxiety, draconian measures, and an increasing prevalence of nut allergies must be broken,” he said.
Peanut allergies are
rising in humans, with an estimated 2.5 million people in Europe and the
There is no current cure for food allergy and vigilance by an allergic individual is the only way to prevent a reaction but a peanut allergy can be so severe that only very tiny amounts can be enough to trigger a response.
recommendations in many countries, such as the
However, a recent
study comparing incidence of peanut allergy in Jewish children in the
Findings in the Journal
of Allergy and Clinical Immunology showed that 69 per cent of Israeli
children were consuming peanut, while only ten per cent of the children in
“Measures to control nuts are instead making things worse in a cycle of over-reaction and increasing sensitisation,” said Prof Christakis.
One example cited in
the BMJ article involved the evacuation and decontamination pf a school bus in the
The "gross over-reaction to the magnitude of the threat" is very similar to mass psychogenic illness (MPI), said Prof Christakis, previously known as epidemic hysteria.
Outbreaks of MPI involve healthy people in a flow of anxiety, most often triggered by a fear of contamination, he said. Being around individuals who are anxious heightens others' anxiety.
Lightning bolts are equally as dangerous
In attempt to add
perspective, the Harvard professor notes that 150 people die each year from
food allergies in the
“We do not see calls to end athletics,” he said.
“There are no doubt thousands of parents who rid their cupboards of peanut butter but not of guns,” he added. “And more children assuredly die walking or being driven to school each year than die from nut allergies.”
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