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Who's Afraid of Peanuts

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Guest blogger Ronda Kaysen: Food allergies are on the rise. Exposure to even a trace amount of allergenic foods like peanuts can cause sudden death in an allergic child. We scour packaging labels to be certain our kids' food is free of these dangerous ingredients. But what if we're wrong? What if the spike in allergies is nothing more than a craze built on bad science and panic?

Woman holding a peanut butter jar

Grandparents roll their eyes when we lock the peanut butter jar away with the cleaning supplies. They talk longingly of the days when P.B. & J sandwiches were staples in every kid's lunch pail and not banned from school property. They might be onto something.

Dr. Rahul K. Parikh argues in a Salon.com article that the data about food allergies is wrong. Even worse, delaying the introduction of these foods might actually contribute to a rise in allergies.

The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, a Virginia-based advocacy organization, has led the charge to raise awareness about allergies. It insists that incidence of food allergies has doubled in the last decade, food allergies are responsible for 50,000 emergency room visits in the U.S. a year and 150 people die a year from food allergies. Their efforts have led politicians to enact laws, school boards to change their policies and parents to go into a tailspin.

But their science is off the mark, says Parikh. He disputes their claims, saying the methodology is faulty and that a lot of parents who think their kids have allergies are just plain wrong.

The evidence that 50,000 people ended up in the E.R. because of food allergies is based on one hospital's data over a period of several years. The claim that allergy rates have doubled is based on phone surveys, which are notoriously inaccurate. Parikh says the claim that 150 to 200 kids die a year from allergies is "grossly exaggerated." In 2004, the Centers for Disease Control cited only 14 cases of death from anaphylaxis, the condition that occurs when a person suddenly stops breathing.

The hype - kids wear bracelets and carry medicine with them at all times, school buses are evacuated when a stray peanut is found - has totally blown the risk out of proportion. Even if 150 people died from food allergies last year, it doesn't hold a candle to the 1,300 who died from gun accidents or the 2,000 kids who drown each year. "More children assuredly die walking or being driven to school each year than die from nut allergies," Harvard physician and sociologist Nicholas Christakis wrote in an essay that Parikh quoted.

All this talk makes me wonder if we should listen to Grandma after all. Maybe our toddlers would be better off with a bowl of mussels in peanut sauce with strawberries for dessert.


next: Who Put the Pipe In Popeye's Mouth?
13 comments so far | Post a comment now
Natalie February 8, 2009, 2:34 PM

I gave both my kids honey and peanut butter before they were 1. Guess what? THEY’RE FINE. They have no allergies, no medical issues. They’re happy little toddlers who only like chicken nuggets and grilled cheese.

Bec Thomas February 8, 2009, 9:18 PM

I would like to point out that the way they word statistics is what really gets people panicking and drives the fear. OMG 50,000 hospital visits, 150 dead. If you actually break the numbers down they are extremely minor. America has a population of 304,000,000, 150 deaths is a tiny fraction of a percent, 50,00 is just a tiny bit more.

ashley February 9, 2009, 7:16 AM

My son still gets a pb&j in his lunch box at least twice a week. Sometimes I give one to my toddler but then I have to give her a bath.

ashley February 9, 2009, 7:18 AM

One more thing: Maybe if more people breastfed their kids then they wouldn’t be worried about allergies. Isn’t it proven that breastfed kids have less allergies??

just saying February 9, 2009, 8:28 AM

Ashley - I don’t know if breastfeeding is proven that kids have less allergies or not but I can say that I didn’t breastfeed either of my 2 kids and they don’t have ANY food allergies but my sister in-law on the other hand breastfeed all 3 of her kids and 1 is allergic to peanut butter and the 2nd one is allergic to peanut butter, strawberries and all dairy products.

Jamie February 9, 2009, 8:31 AM

Just to add my two cents…I realize the numbers of incidents are low in comparison, but I have friends who have suffered seeing their child in anaphylactic shock. You can’t tell them that it is minor. Research will someday find the cause of this terrible affliction, but until then, we need to have empathy for those whose lives we don’t live everyday. Thanks.

Lissa February 9, 2009, 10:39 AM

This is the worst kind of regurgitation “journalism.” The story run by Salon.com last week has sparked numerous bandwagon reports just like this one. What shocks me the most about the premise of this Dr. Parikh is that there is NO acknowledgment of the fact that the position he posits is as equally unsupported by research and hard data as that of the FAAN. The sad truth is that there is not enough known about food allergies to know what causes it. What I do know is that my daughter has food allergies - that is a fact, not a hysterical reaction to media reports on the rise of the incidence of food allergies in America. And, yes, guns certainly account for more deaths in children than peanuts. But, I also don’t want guns to be allowed in her preschool. No one has a problem with that. I am sorry that so many people feel somehow angry and frustrated that they can’t send in a PB&J with their kid because mine is in their class, but frankly that’s not my primary concern. I would like for her to be safe and I don’t think it’s asking too much. I am deeply offended by the tone of this article and the implication that something I did or did not do caused my child’s food allergy. For the people that smugly claim that they breast fed their child and they are without allergies, I could just as easily claim that I live in a two story house and my child is cancer free. There is no known causality between the two. If your child is allergen-free, then be grateful and say a prayer of thanks, but do not DARE to spew your self righteous venom on me and other parents on a topic that you know nothing about. You are not an expert on this topic because you read a one page article that validates your secret suspicion that food allergies are overblown.

Chris (DC) February 9, 2009, 11:40 AM

Gee, I fed my child a dinner dish with walnuts and you know what? I watched her nearly die! And I’m not talking about keeling over, but an incapacitating headache followed by vomiting several feet. An Epipen (which we luckily had due to her egg allergy, not this new allergy) calmed her down for all of 45 minutes - enough time to get her to the hospital, where she nearly died again; this time from coughing to the point she couldn’t breathe. Enough about the first of 13 reactions she’s had. She was 6 at the time (now 7 1/2), breastfed and also allergic to eggs, nearly all nuts and peanuts. I know the stats are miniscule and I respect every child’s and parent’s right to eat what they want, but when you know that there is a risk to others around, please respect them.

Instead of speculating why the increase in food allergies (call it 1 in 18 as FAAN suggests or the fact that EVERYONE reading this knows someone or someone-who-knows-someone with allergies - compared to almost none when we were all kids), lets figure out what causes them and make sure it’s not something we can control. That’s right… we don’t know what causes it. And in years past, as little as $8M was spent figuring it out. That’s a drop in the government bucket. Let’s figure this out and move forward.

Donna February 9, 2009, 11:44 AM

PLEASE REMEMBER THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO ARE DEADLY ALLERGIC TO PEANUTS. I have a daughter who is deadly allergic to peanuts. I breast fed her and was not worried about food allergies until she had her first reaction. Through the years we have had her retested always hoping the allergy would at least decrease, it never has. If you ever see anyone in Anaphylatic Shock you would quickly realize the dangers of food allergies. There will always be people who blow things out of proportion BUT please do not use that to dismiss the children (and adults) who have life threatening food allergies. As a parent, I want what is best for my child and I demand her safety! But, not only her safety, the safety of every child. I CAN NOT imagine ever feeling upset and angry over a food item I was asked to not send to school, there are to many other choices and we are talking about the life of a child. It amazes me how people get SO up in arms over peanut butter. I wish these same people would fight this hard to improve our public school systems. My daughters school is not peanut free. They do not serve any peanut products but children can still bring PB&J in their lunch. The staff is careful that she never sits next to anyone with peanut products and all tables are wiped down after every class (I hope all schools are doing this regardless). I am thankful to all the wonderful people at her school, camp and restaurants who double check things and read labels for us. My daughter is 6 years old and we always warn and remind her of the precautions she must take. We have taught to only eat what we give her and to always report to an adult if she is feeling ill. We have multiply epi-pen kits throughout her school and summer camp. I make sure that all supervising adults are trained about what to do in case of a reaction. Everyone I have every had to deal with in regards to this issue has been caring and concerned and for that I am grateful. For most of us, who have children with food allergies, this is not just a way to get attention. This is a labor of love. A lot of time, energy and money go into creating an environment where my child can be as safe as possible.

Steve February 9, 2009, 11:44 PM

Why is everyone buying into this trash.
I was sent this to illustrate badly researched, sensationalist journalism.

Hey and guess what? It works!

I guess ronda kaysen is paid by per view.

Sad.

Micaela February 10, 2009, 2:27 PM

I did breastfeed my son, & he is VERY allergic to nuts. And when he was young, it seemed like every person who would watch him-daycare, preschool, cousin seemed to think I was lying & managed to give him nuts & I had to rush him to the hospital & pay a huge deductible, & my son had to deal with shots every hour for 3 hrs. I am sick & tired of people acting like this is no big deal, & parents are lying! One woman has the audacity to say “150 deaths is a tiny fraction of a percent,” Really? What if your child was one of the only 150? Would that make you feel better? c’mon people, I dont know why these allergies are so much more common now, maybe they just weren’t diagnosed correctly. I am not allergic to nuts or any food for that matter, as well as my husband, our daughter, or my step-son. My son HATES that he is allergic, he gets teased.

Protect Allergic Kids  February 11, 2009, 2:36 PM

for support and information google us

stadtplan berlin February 28, 2009, 4:39 PM

Gut!


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