Food Allergies – Coping With A Changing World

We live in a different world. Where just a few generations ago peanut butter sandwiches were the norm in our children’s lunch boxes and dining out or attending birthday parties were carefree events, today those same events can harm a child.

The reality is that food allergies are soaring worldwide for reasons, as of yet, undetermined. Sadly, our children now live in a changed world where the very foods we traditionally used to sustain and nourish them, can severely put their health at risk. Due to this dramatic increase of food allergies, society is scrambling to meet the challenges of this epidemic head-on and is now faced with many issues and questions; particularly the matter of what role and responsibility community has to keep sufferers safe.

A lot of discussion has focused on the role of schools – particularly relevant given school is primarily where children spend most of their time away from home, but it also represents a major challenge for food allergy families whose only option to keep their child safe is to strictly avoid the allergen (s).

A recent incident in Australia highlighted this issue when OAKLEIGH GRAMMAR SCHOOL sent over 300 students home after it was forced to close amid anaphylaxis fears after it was egged.

Deputy Principal Peter Cummins said “most parents had been supportive of the closure, understanding the potential risk for students with egg allergies”. While, Principal Mark Robertson told us that the decision to close the school “was made to exercise the highest level of caution, not just for the known food allergy sufferers but to protect all students including those that may not be known to have food allergies.”

Yet the closure received criticism, including, somewhat surprisingly, from those within the food allergy community itself.  Was this an overreaction or a necessary step?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (USA), 25 percent of anaphylaxis reactions – occur in schools among students who had not yet been diagnosed with a food allergy.

While in Australia, hospital admissions for food-related anaphylaxis are up 350% in the past 20 years. Some experts believe Australia is not keeping up with the current demands resulting in a shortage of allergy-related resources including allergy specialists, putting children at risk because they are missing out on timely access to diagnosis and support.

With this in mind, we believe it would be logical for schools (and society in general) to err on the side of caution when dealing with food allergies. We agree and applaud the decision made by OAKLEIGH GRAMMAR SCHOOL to exercise the highest level of caution.

Until a cure is found, it is imperative that we all share the responsibility of keeping all children safe. Any policies or procedures put in place must not only assist those currently suffering with food allergies but also protect those who may not be aware they do.


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