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Nut Allergies: Only for the Rich

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A newspaper columnist says peanut allergies are blown out of proportion by wealthy communities. One mom disagrees.

nut allergies

An opinion article in the LA Times says nut allergies are only an "issue in rich, lefty communities." In the column, Joel Stein says he has a message for parents whose kids have nut allergies: "Your kid doesn't have an allergy to nuts. Your kid has a parent who needs to feel special. Your kid also spends recess running and screaming, 'No! Stop! Don't rub my head with peanut butter!'"

He goes on to say that although there are SOME kids who have a severe allergy to nuts, there are many who just think they do. He says that while 25% of parents believe their children are allergic to nuts, in reality only 4% are. He theorizes that this upward trend in allergies is a result of mass hysteria -- comparing it to kids that hang out with fat kids become fat kids themselves. Stein basically believes that people are over-reacting because they don't have anything more important to worry about.

Does he have a point? We asked a mom who deals with nut allergies every waking moment of her life:

Natalie Kosson Mashaal is the mother of an 11-year-old with severe peanut allergies. Her daughter has been hospitalized three times because of exposure to foods she's allergic to. Mashaal sits on the advisory committee for the Food Allergy Initiative -- an organization that works to raise money for research. Mashaal also has a 9-year-old and a 2-year-old, both of whom are growing out of the allergies they once had, and a 1-year-old who has no allergies.

Here's her reaction to Joel Stein's column:

There is no validity to his suggestion: I cannot for the life of me think of why a parent would make up that their child has a life-threatening condition. The whole issue is a lack of understanding. The truth is that this IS based in fact. You go to the doctor and you either have this allergy or you don't. There are some people who just get a rash if they eat peanuts, but for some it's an anaphylactic allergy, meaning they'll go into shock, causing their system to shut down. Their body reacts as if its been poisoned.

It's dangerous for him to say this: It's not like parents are benefiting from these allergies. It's awful -- especially when you're a mom who is trying to talk to other moms about it. I really need them to take me and this condition seriously. When my daughter goes on a play date, she needs to have an EpiPen. We HAVE made progress on educating people, but it's only because the epidemic has grown. Stories like this hurt our cause.

People need to worry MORE: People are not over-reacting. They are under-reacting! People should be nervous. An increase to this degree in number of allergy cases is something we should all worry about.

If we knew why this was happening, we'd be better at preventing it: Right now, it's anyone's guess as to why this is happening. It's safe to say it's our eating habits. But the more widespread it becomes, the less ignorant society becomes -- and the easier it is to get money for research.

It's prevalent in communities who can afford it: The reason why it seems less common in poorer areas is due to lack of diagnosis or proper care. It often costs money and takes insurance to deal with nut allergies.

Natalie says that every time her daughter goes to school, she has to worry that she's not coming home. She says that she must leave EpiPens everywhere her daughter will be. Who would put themselves through this voluntarily? Give us a break, Joel Stein!

next: Sometimes I Forget I'm a Mom
6 comments so far | Post a comment now
Miranda January 14, 2009, 4:50 PM

The article in the LA times is complete B.S.!!!!!!! I’ll remember that next time my 2-year-old nephew has to be rushed to the E.R. because he isn’t breathing because he got into nuts. It is not just the rich, my sister and brother-in-law are far from rich!!!!!

Liz January 14, 2009, 6:44 PM

While his article may be disrespectful, the commenter here and the interviewee are missing the point. While there is a small percentage of children who have serious nut allergies, like the commenter’s nephew above and the children in the article, many parents out there like to over-diagnose their children and provide more caution that is needed, a quality often seen amongst the elite. The author of the LA Times piece is not denying the presence of serious nut allergies. I run in a social circle of families that could never be defined as wealthy, and the children I encounter are healthy, happy, bright, and (mostly) allergy-free. However, I work for the social “elite” and it’s jarring how these parents all manage to come up with laundry-lists of “ailments” and “severe allergies” for most of their children. I think there is something to be said for people who have too much time on their hands worrying about things that don’t need to be worried about. Sadly, also, like the “crying wolf” effect, it takes away concern for those few unfortunate children (rich and poor) who have a serious nut allergy.

kim Hutton January 14, 2009, 7:19 PM

How sad to see such ignorance. I suppose he would reason cancer is also an affliction of the rich since cancer treatment and cures are incredibly expensive (and usually diagnosed and treated amongst the rich - PLEASE!) As a mother of a child with life threatening peanut allergies his sort of stupidity perpetuates the misunderstanding of such a condition. Also, unlike many allergies does Mr. Stien realize that each exposure heightens the reaction so parents must remain constantly vigilant to assure their children are not exposed.

Also, to make the assumption that the rich “believe” thier children have more allergies than less affluent is to make a causal relationship that simply does not exist. What an uninformed, unqualified and simplistic explanation for a very complicated problem.

Kirstie January 14, 2009, 9:21 PM

He’s not saying severe nut allergies DON’T exist - they clearly do. And food allergies ARE very, very serious. I’ve got a deathly severe shellfish allergy myself, and have to carry an epipen whereever I go. (It makes dating an Italian.. um .. interesting? Especially on Christmas. Oh, all that seafood..)

However, he’s saying that the prevalence might not be high as people insist - and he’s got a point. I worked in a summer camp for years, and I personally had a child whose mother made it VERY, VERY CLEAR to us she had a “severe, life-threathening peanut allergy.” That’s all well and good - our group was made peanut free, the nurse had an epipen for her, it was all arranged for and planned for.

I kid you not, the kid would WALK IN THE GATE eating peanut butter cups, etc. Oh, yeah, it’s life threatening? Come on.

Some people DO like to make things out to be worse then they are. It’s an attention thing. I do think this article stated things in a very inappropriate, disrespectful way .. but not in a completely inaccurate way.

Mugzwpzv June 29, 2009, 9:58 AM

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Ten Tees January 8, 2011, 3:36 PM

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