Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Study: Food Allergies Not Understood by the General Public--What to Do About It?

I've been wanting to discuss this recent study about how the public views food allergies. Not surprisingly, most study respondents did not understand either what food allergies are or how serious they can be to someone's health. The study also showed that many people erroneously believe that medicine may be used that will prevent food allergy symptoms.

I had a real-life experience with this on a TV show a few weeks ago. "Monk" the detective series on the USA network happened to mention this misguided view of peanut allergies. Monk is a great show--for those of you who have ever watched it, you know that the title character is consumed with details. He had the chance to meet an actress from one of his favorite childhood TV shows and so he wanted to clear up some of the show's details from years past. It was funny. But here's what he asked: "On one episode you had a peanut allergy. But then on the next episode you ate something containing peanuts and didn't have a reaction. Why?"

Yes! I thought while watching. The USA network reaches millions of viewers and now they'll hear how wrong that is. However, here was the other character's disappointing response: "Maybe the doctor just gave me some medicine." Then the show of course moved onto other topics and that was that.

ARRRGGHHH! There is no medicine you can give someone to prevent an allergic reaction prior to ingesting an allergenic food. But this very big medical misinfo made it through the final cut of the show.

I mention this now, because as we go back to school, many of us may find ourselves faced with people who think we're making this all up. Or that there is a simple medicine that can prevent a severely allergic person from having anaphylaxis once they've ingested the allergenic food. If you're meeting with school officials, this is your chance to speak up and have the facts.

For example, one finding of the study was that parents of non-allergic kids did not want special accommodations, such as a peanut ban (understandable, since they never do.) But surprisingly the same group didn't even want a peanut-free table. Why?? How does it affect them? Just goes to show you that for some having the school try to help with a child's food allergy for safety purposes is considered "special treatment" even if it only affects the allergic child and not the non-allergic kids. How does a peanut-free, milk-free or egg-free table affect the non-allergic in any meaningful way? If anything, it's more difficult for the allergic child, though it may be medically necessary depending on their age and level of sensitivity.

Facts combat ignorance, so have them ready. You may want to refer people to the FAAN web site or to food allergy books. DVDS, available through FAAN, can also be very helpful. Every bit of education helps.

I'm curious: Have you had "Monk moments" in your own life where blatant misinformation about food allergies in the media or otherwise had you shaking your head? I'm guessing yes.

The best thing we can do is to educate and advocate. Don't be rattled by people who don't "get it" but work hard to educate them, showing them the compassion you wish they showed to you. The old adage "you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" really applies here.


Kelly said...

Omg, Jenny I couldn't agree with you more. I brace myself whenever I try to tell people at school my reasoning for a non food bday treat celebration at school. 25 kids, celebrating their bdays at school every month and it is the same old discussion about giving me enough notice to provide an alternative treat for John, etc. All we can do is to continue to gently advocate, give facts and continue the discussion. The more we talk about about it, the better. Thanks so much for a great post!

Anonymous said...

I would like to share with you how we have handled the school treat issue with my grandson. Before school starts each year, my daughter meets the teacher(s) and gives them the scariest info she can find on peanut allergy. Then she requests that she be allowed to leave a treat (in this case Oreos - which we have read the label on)for her son in the teacher's cupboard - which he is allowed to help himself to during any class party. The teachers have always been wonderfully supportive and commented on how independent my grandson is about it. He never seemed to feel left out as far as treats were concerned. I might add that the only time he ever got Oreos was at school or at a friend's party, when we sent some with him so he wouldn't miss the party food.