Peanut Allergies and the Nutty Truth

According to a report from the Center for Disease Control, the prevalence of food allergies among children increased 50 percent from 1997 to 2011. When I was in school, it was a rarity to see kids with severe allergies. Now, they are everywhere. What happened?

Mnet 137891 Peanut Allergys2 Lead

On my drive home from the office the other day, the sidewalks were littered with freckle-faced kids wearing “Star Wars” and “Frozen” backpacks.

I began reminiscing of the good old days when my best friends and I would roam the hallways, walking from English class to the gymnasium — always secretly hoping it would be parachute day.

Schools have changed quite a bit over the years. While some changes are because of the technological advances, others are because of changes to the students.

According to a recent report from the Center for Disease Control, the prevalence of food allergies among children increased 50 percent from 1997 to 2011.

One in every 13 kids has a food allergy today. That comes out to an average of two students in every classroom.

When I was in school, it was a rarity to see kids with severe allergies. Now, they are everywhere. What happened?

With food allergies in children having been on the rise over the last decade — peanut allergies have actually tripled between 1997 and 2008 — many schools are now prohibiting birthday cakes, limiting snacks and establishing peanut-free tables or entire classrooms.

In the 1990s, I didn’t know a single child with a food allergy. I brought a peanut butter sandwich to school every day, and no fuss was ever made.

I vividly remember bringing in cupcakes for my 10th birthday, and the entire class would scream in delight. Today, a parent might complain because their child is gluten-intolerant. Or allergic to peanuts, milk, eggs, soy — you name it!

We have gone from cafeterias full of peanut butter, among other tasty treats, to banning it altogether. So, my question is: Are schools going too far or are these bans really needed?

Why allergies are on the rise

Actually, no one really knows the answer to this. In general, those with food allergies have extra-sensitive immune systems that react to harmless substances called allergens found in certain foods and drinks.

Experts have some theories about the cause of what they call the allergy epidemic. One is that we have gotten too clean. The use of medications to prevent and quickly treat infections leaves the immune system under-stimulated. Experts say this “bored” immune system then goes and attacks harmless proteins like those in foods.

Popular Science posits that children today are not spending enough time outside, which in turn cheats them of Vitamin D. High levels of the vitamin helps the immune system identify innocuous substances and leave them be.

Another idea is that food additives and pesticides may be altering the flora in our guts in a way that makes us more sensitive to allergens. Discovery Fit & Health says new things in food, like genetically modified organisms and new proteins in dairy products, may be the culprits.

In short, nobody knows what is going on or what to do about it. But should a parent really be put into the position of making peanut-free cookies because one student is allergic, and also making them gluten-free because another student has a gluten intolerance?

Are strict schools and peanut-free zones the answer? And what will schools be like in another 20 years?

Feel free to comment below with your own experiences or ideas. Or reach out to me personally at Kari.Imberg@advantagemedia.com.

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