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Nutty Behavior Over Peanuts

Harvard professor of medical sociology, Dr. Nicholas Christakis, strongly believes Americans have gone over the top in their fears of peanut allergies. A Massachusetts school bus was evacuated when a stray peanut was found lying in the aisle. Christakis’s children attend school in that district prompting him to publish commentary in the British Medical Journal regarding exaggerated hysteria over peanut allergies. He argues that per year only 150 of America’s 3.3 million peanut afflicted citizens actually die from an attack. These numbers are far too low to actually incite the sort of anxiety peanut allergists have been imposing on their communities. Considering the number of people that die from other preventable causes, the peanut allergy epidemic is nothing short of ridiculous. Furthermore, Christakis points out the intentional avoidance of exposure to nuts may actually be fueling the rise in human intolerance as cases of peanut allergies accelerate in locales that put emphasis on nut isolation. He laments that discussions on the matter quickly degenerate to heated PB&J versus death arguments – as demonstrated on OmniNerd not too long ago.

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Information This article was edited after publication by the author on 05 Jan 2009. View changes.
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On Being Reasonable by gnifyus

Why any administrator of a public building, especially a school, would choose to deem it “Peanut Free” is beyond me. It is an unsustainable goal and gives a false sense of security to anyone dumb enough to believe it just because it says it. The stray peanut rolling around that bus (not my district) proves that. Our elementary school chose to go “Nut Safe” which means teachers and children (as much as possible) are made aware of the potential danger for the allergic kids. A “no nut product” table is set up in the cafeteria and a watchful eye is kept on classroom snacks. So far, I haven’t heard of any episodes since this was put in place. The kids who have these allergies know what to stay away from, and bring their own food for class parties, etc. Their fellow classmates support them for the most part, and try to stay away from nut products while in school. (Such a nice town we are, usually.)
In the initial stages, this was all new to everyone and our school administration opted to err on the side of caution when they put out a notice saying, “No peanut products allowed”. This sparked a defiant attitude among some parents who immediately decided that their convenience was more important than someone else’s child’s life – instead of waiting to see what the real situation would turn out to be. (Which has ended up being much more reasonable.) This initial attitude bothered me, especially the shouting and stamping of feet in a public forum. Given that no bad episodes have happened that I know of, it’s possible the parents of these allergic children could have “over-bent” the situation a little to garner attention that might have been lost in the shuffle otherwise.
It is un-reasonable to try to run a school as “Peanut Free” from both a school administration standpoint and a parental standpoint. If your child is so allergic that someone’s Captain Crunch breath from down the hall could sent him or her into shock, then your child needs to be separated somehow. This really falls into the same category as someone with an extreme immune deficiency, and trying to declare a school as “Germ Free”. How can you trust that on a day-to-day basis these strict guidelines will be adhered to forever? How can you place that burden on the administrators of a school and the other children that surround them?
There’s a certain threshold of reason in this situation. I feel our particular school falls within this threshold with the precautions they enacted and the awareness they raised.

I know it is a serious issue, but would I be out of line for suggesting that people have gone nuts over this?

A rational response by a parent to a child’s peanut allergy:

Calon didn’t want Trinity’s school to ban peanut butter or anything else containing nuts. She simply wanted the teachers to know who her daughter was, where her epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen) was located and how to use it if Trinity was in trouble.

“The best thing I can do is prepare her for later in life, to make her accountable for her allergy,” Calon says.

Bruce Schneier comments

This is a much more resilient response to the threat. It works even when the peanut ban fails. It works whether the child has an anaphylactic reaction to nuts, fruit, dairy, gluten, or whatever.

He previously quoted a BBC News article decrying the nutty behavior, and the “lively” comments ranged from rational to nutty.

On the other end of the spectrum, my cousin’s one year-old son had a severe reaction to his first taste of peanut butter. After rushing to the hospital they were given an epi-pen and taught how to use it. Her husband is a college professor who spends four months of the year in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. They are over five hours from the nearest hospital, but they were only “permitted” to get two epi-pens. A dose of epinephrine must be administered every 30 minutes until arrival at the hospital… I haven’t heard for sure, but I think their doctor helped them get a few more “samples”.

My daughter is now 7. We have taught her to be cautious of what she is having at a friend’s house, at a birthday party, school snacks that are home made, etc. We generally stay away from bakery items, ice creams, and many different kinds of candies. I don’t expect schools to cater to my daughter and her allergy … however it is refreshing to have people aware of the allergy and take a closer look at foods given to children that may cause a reaction (especially to young children who cannot tell/remind their daycare provider or teacher that they can’t eat milk, soy, gluten, or peanut). When my daughter first had a reaction at 18 mo. we were clueless as to why or what was causing her to wheeze and break out with hives. Food labels did not contain those bolded allergy warning labels and it made me a freaked out mom (of course, who would want their baby to go through that reaction again and possibly have a worse reaction?). Of course I am still cautious as to what I do buy at the grocery store … even with the labels, but it does help me to NOT buy the products that may give her problems. I guess what sparked me to write on this blog was the article in TIME … There may only be a handful of fatalities caused by allergic reaction to peanuts, but I am not willing to have my daughter be included in that small percentage. I know that you think it is the communtiy reaction to the problem that is getting out of hand … but I would rather have people act cautiously and try to protect these kids with food allergies rather than think that food allergies are no biggie and allow school lunches be prepared with peanut oil, etc…. I guess there has to be a middle ground but until there is I want the blinders to stay off.

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