One in every 12 U.S. kids may have a food allergy, according to a new study that says childhood food allergies are much more common than previously thought.
Though more schools take measures to protect kids with food allergies, and most parents are sensitive to the dangers, a small but vocal group of parents think such allergies are exaggerated, even invented. Some even send junior off to his nut-free class with a peanut-butter-and jelly sandwich.
Last March, anti-allergy sentiment went public when parents protested (with picket signs!) the extra time it took washing hands, rinsing out mouths and wiping down desks in order to protect an allergic child in one Florida school. Parents wanted the 6-year-old girl to be home-schooled.
Aside from that public backlash, allergy skeptics mostly voice their views on anonymous message boards, where the debate can turn ugly. One commenter on UrbanBaby.com said about peanut allergies, “Always a sign of the craziest, most hovering, over-the-top mother in town….She is a NUT!” Another posted, “I’ve been sending peanut butter sandwiches to school for three years and not a single child has died. Clearly it’s not the ‘threat’ you hysterics make it out to be.” The same mom boasted that she happily passes out peanut butter cups for Halloween.
One skeptic from CafeMom.com posted: “It’s not fair to turn a whole school upside down for ONE student….Peanut butter sandwiches are just about the only thing my kid will eat. Multiple kids have to suffer so one kid can “enjoy” a normal childhood…yeah, screw that.”
But as any mom who packs an EpiPen in her purse knows, food allergies are hardly psychosomatic—they can be deadly. Sure, managing a child’s food allergies can be compared to taking on a part-time job, but it’s not a duty any parent wants. On top of the stress of trying to manage their child’s diet and environment, they deal with those who think their efforts to protect their kid is nothing more than neurotic over-protection.
“People sense the anxiety and fear in the allergy moms, and write us off as being anxious moms,” says Gina Clowes, founder of AllergyMoms.com and author of “One of the Gang: Nurturing the Souls of Children with Food Allergies.” “We are anxious—we have children with a potentially life threatening and invisible disease.”
And doctors warn that allergies shouldn’t be taken lightly. According to allergist Dr. Stanley Fineman, president-elect of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: “Patients with a true food allergy are at risk of having a severe anaphylactic reaction that may be life-threatening if they’re exposed to the allergenic food.”
Have you come across any allergy skeptic moms? How do you feel about parents who resist efforts to keep schools safe for kids with food allergies?
Julie Weingarden Dubin is a Michigan-based freelance journalist and author with three rocking kids, a loving husband and a trashed minivan. She covers health, psychology, parenting, relationships and pop culture.