Food allergies on the rise
An average of two kids in your child’s class probably have an allergy.
When Lynda Mitchell’s son was diagnosed with food allergies as a baby some 20 years ago, “food allergies were relatively unheard of,” she remembers. Through the 90s, Mitchell connected with other parents coping with food allergies and eventually founded the Kids With Food Allergies Foundation (KFA), located in Doylestown, PA, “to provide the resources parents need to help their children lead normal lives.”
KFA is sponsoring a Strides for Safe Kids walk and expo Sept. 9 at the Plymouth Meeting Mall. Registration starts at 9am, with the walk and fundraiser takes place 10am-1pm.
There are many theories to explain why childhood food allergies have doubled in recent years, but so far, no clear explanations. “Food allergies are on the rise,” confirms Christopher Chang, MD, chief of pediatric allergy/immunology at Nemours/A.I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington. From 6% to 9% of the population is affected — one of every 13 kids or around two children with food allergies in a typical classroom.
Mitchell says that 25% of first-time allergic reactions happen at school. “School is a main source of anxiety for parents,” says Sue Harrison, chairperson of the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network’s Walk for Food Allergies, which will take place on Sept. 15, with registration starting at 11am and the walk beginning at 12noon in Cooper River Park, Pennsauken, NJ.
“We have been campaigning for EpiPens (injectable epinephrine) to be more available at schools,” says Dr. Chang. Children with food allergies often bring their school nurse an EpiPen or a prescription to use one. Now KFA and other advocates are seeking legislation in Pennsylvania and at the federal level that would train and permit school personnel to recognize allergic reactions and inject epinephrine for any child.
What you can do
“Allergies can be very isolating,” says Harrison. “You have to consider and prepare very seriously before accepting a play date or a birthday party invitation.” One option is to provide a safe snack or cupcake when sending a child with food allergies to a social event.
Robin Davidson, of Merion, PA, began StatKids in 2006 after experiencing frustration in finding kid-friendly allergy alert products for her son. Among StatKids’ products are brightly colored lunch bags labeled with the child’s allergy, wristbands and bracelets, and travel packs for carrying EpiPens and safe snacks.
Here are other steps parents of kids with food allergies advisetaking.
• Practice thorough hand-washing. While hand sanitizer kills germs, it doesn’t remove the food proteins that may cause a reaction.
• Teach kids not to exchange food with each other.
• Read food labels carefully for food derivatives, and possible cross-contamination hazards.
Since 2006, packaged goods are required to label the eight major allergy groups “in plain English,” says Dr. Chang. “Labels are greatly improved since 2006, but there are still some loopholes,” says Mitchell. “You have to read the ingredient label every time.”
Suzanne Koup-Larsen is a contributing writer to MetroKids.