A few years ago a school nurse in San Francisco made sure every child who entered the school washed their hands thoroughly due to another child’s severe allergy to peanuts. In another school district a bus full of ten-year-olds was evacuated and sanitized because a peanut was found on the floor. More and more schools in the US are becoming “peanut free” by not allowing parents to send with their kids items containing peanuts in lunches, snacks or birthday treats.
Schools are doing this because allergic reactions to peanuts are becoming more and more common. And although it is rare, a reaction to peanuts can lead to death. Peanut free schools also argue that the oils found on nuts are difficult to wash off of tables, chairs and desks with common household cleansers. According to the Food and Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network only 100 people in the US die from an adverse reaction to peanuts every year. Studies have shown, however that nut allergies are increasing in western societies. Although, only 1% of children are affected by peanut allergies. Compare that to twice as many who are allergic to seafood. Nut allergies begin at an early age and 25% of children outgrow it.
On December 13, 2008 Harvard Professor Dr. Nicholas Christakis wrote an article in the British Medical Journal on this issue. His children attend school in the school district where the bus was evacuated. Christakis believes that schools are overreacting which is leading this to become a bigger problem than it should be. In his article, “This allergies hysteria is just nuts,” he states:
“The wholesale avoidance of nuts contributes to the problem by resulting in children who, lacking exposure to nuts, are actually sensitized to them.. One recent UK study of more than 10,000 children documented that early exposure to peanuts reduces, not increases, the risk of allergy. (Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 2008; 112:984)” (British Medical Journal, Dec. 13, 2008 volume 337)
Christakis argues that the increased anxiety and worry over nut allergies in our schools is causing more parents to get their children tested. The results of most nut allergy tests are mild. This however, does not prevent parents from avoiding nuts all together. Eliminating nuts in children’s’ diets can lead to even more sensitization.
Based on the low statistics of children’s reactions to peanut allergies I agree with the professor. When I was in school if you were allergic to something it was your responsibility to stay away from it. Schools did not have to keep things that the students were allergic to, such as peanuts, away from the school. I understand that today’s schools just want a safe environment for their children but this has gone to the extreme. If a child has been living with a peanut allergy for a number of years he or she should know how to stay away from them. It should be the child’s and parents’ responsibility to stay away from anything that could cause an allergic reaction not the schools.
More people die of gunshot wounds than a reaction to peanuts. Why can’t schools work harder to keep guns away? More people die in car accidents each year. Maybe schools should make every child walk so they don’t get hurt in a car accident on the way to school.
I applaud Christakis for publishing that article which is helping the public become more aware of this issue. Let your children enjoy a peanut and butter jelly sandwich when they are one. Early exposure to peanuts has proved to prevent the allergy. If your child’s school is peanut free just laugh. By becoming “peanut free” they are blowing this whole food allergy thing way out of proportion.