Wednesday, August 02, 2006

To Kill By Way Of Prevention

Some kids have such severe nut allergies that if you expose them to something as innocuous as airborne peanut particles they react like it's mustard gas. And over the last few years more and more schools have responded by applying blanket bans to all peanut products. A Mayo Clinic allergy specialist endorses this in his advice column:

A child at my daughter's school has peanut allergy, so the school has banned all peanut products to prevent inadvertently exposing this individual to these products. Is this really necessary?
- No name / No state given

Most people who have peanut allergy develop allergic reactions only when they eat peanuts or peanut products. Rarely, a person can be so sensitive to peanuts that reactions occur even when exposed only to peanut particles in the air.
Keep in mind that kids share food. Also, peanut particles from foods eaten by other children can contaminate surfaces such as tables, plates and utensils. These surfaces could then be touched by a child with peanut allergy, triggering an allergic reaction. One way to reduce the risk of inadvertent exposure is to ban all peanuts and peanut products from the school.

If your body might fail if exposed to even trace amounts of something most others find completely innocuous, how can you safely leave the house? Here’s the story of some of the earliest schoolwide peanut bans, which the New York Times reported in 1998:

Prodded by parents warning of lethal allergies, by the contentions of some researchers that peanut allergies are on the rise and, not least, by a fear of litigation, growing numbers of public and private schools across the country, including many of New York City's most selective independent schools, have banned peanut butter from their cafeterias. Others have declared peanut-free zones or set up committees to figure out what to do.

Think about that: out of concern for children with such severe allergies that even trace contact with peanuts might kill them, schools in Manhattan ban peanut products.

For those not familiar with the city:

1. It is very crowded and even if you never set foot in a school you can’t go anywhere without having hundreds of people, at some point during the day, pass within a few inches of you. You will even — literally — bump into some of them.

2. In nice weather there are thousands of street vendors selling all sorts of foods and beverages, including delicious bags of fresh, hot, honey-roasted peanuts and cashews you can smell from a block away when the air is right. People who eat these nuts (or even walk by the sellers) become nut-contaminated and some of them are among those who will pass within a few inches of you. You will even — literally — bump into some of them.

3. Manhattan has so many restaurants that if you ate at three different ones every day it would take decades to eat in every one. Many are ethnic places that fry their foods in peanut oil. Their customers (as well as some people who merely walk by when the doors are open) become nut-contaminated and some of them are among those who will pass within a few inches of you. You will even — literally — bump into some of them.

So if you have one of those fatal peanut allergies, stay away from Manhattan or else you will die. Banning peanuts from Manhattan schools won't save any allergic children; we must ban the allergic children from Manhattan. Even in less crowded places, a kid with such a dangerous condition must not be taught to go through life with the belief that others will go out of their way to accommodate him. In the long run, getting your kid through school alive doesn’t matter if he dies within a year of graduation.

A new study demonstrates a predictable side effect of the nut-free-world campaign:

More than one in four children with nut allergies can't identify the nut that they are allergic to, a new study shows.
The findings suggest that well-meaning parents may be being a little too protective for their children's own good by banning nuts completely from the home, so children never see what they look like, Dr. Ronald M. Ferdman of the Children's Hospital Los Angeles, California, told Reuters.
"Kids just have to get that skill to be able to protect themselves, instead of relying on their parents for the rest of their lives," he said.

(Had I been the reporter covering the story, I would have asked the researchers about the possibility of school nut bans contributing to the problem. I’ll bet they would have given me some great quotes in support of my thesis. But I digress.)

Children with nut allergies were actually less able than those without allergies to correctly identify shelled and unshelled peanuts, although this may have been because they were slightly younger on average than the non-allergic kids, Ferdman and Church note in their report in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. . . . "It is possible that the parents of peanut-allergic children did not allow peanuts in their homes and that their children, therefore, never had the opportunity to learn to recognize them," the researchers note.


Blogger rhhardin said...

The idea in general is to take ownership of a piece of politics. This is done by creating a ``public problem,'' where previously there had just been various personal difficulties or failings. Then take ownership of the problem, and there you are, with control, influence and organization.

Drunk driving, for instance, didn't use to be a public problem. It used to be a personal moral failing. The sinner's church perhaps could become involved, if he realized that he was sinning.

More on this, and the trick of creating and taking over public problems, in particular by sociologist Joseph R Gusfield, who has made it his specialty

_The Culture of Public Problems : Drinking-Driving and the Symbolic Order_

_Contested Meanings : The Construction of Alcohol Problems_

the latter being 20 years more recent and more on public problems in general.

3:46 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

The way I see it, RH, if you have a problem there are two basic ways you can respond to it:

1. This sucks. I certainly appreciate any help people offer me to deal with it, but ultimately it is my problem.

2. This sucks. The whole rest of the world had damned well better go out of its way to accommodate me. Ultimately it is their problem.

Take a wild guess which group of people I view with utter contempt.

7:03 AM  
Anonymous NoStar said...

That's why they make Almond Joys and Mounds. Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't.

I miss the good old days when kids with over active or under active immune systems were put into plastic bubbles.

1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This reminded me of the times (twice) while waiting tables in an Italian restaurant that people told me that they were "allergic to garlic".

The first time I actually laughed. I assumed the person must be joking. There was garlic in that place like there's sand at a beach. He wasn't kidding and I got a little lecture about his problems.
The second time I just shrugged and said "I'm sorry sir, there really isn't anything I can do for you".

10:39 AM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

This reminded me of the times (twice) while waiting tables in an Italian restaurant that people told me that they were "allergic to garlic".

That makes about as much sense as my mother, extreme asthmatic triggered by diesel fumes, going to a truck stop and complaining about exhaust.

7:36 PM  
Anonymous smacky said...


I am allergic to onions. I've learned to generally avoid Mexican restaurants unless they are the make-your-own-burrito kind of place, just so I am not laughed out of the establishment.

12:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my child's classroom has several toddlers who have peanut allergies..thus they have asked all families to agree to eliminate peanuts from their children's one peanut-adverse child's physician suggested this be employed as a preventative measure. must be a to truly avoid peanut allergies you'd have to ban granola, most cookies/baked goods, other nuts, some cereals, health bars, pesto, most asian foods, some chilis...the list goes on & on. I learned all this from 30 minutes on the internet..Mayo Clinic/others. Information is out there...but no where does it say to ban foods in their entirety from any environment...instead it focuses on educating the affected individual.
The family at our school is being proactive....but not responsible, & instead have given up ...asking, as you put it, that the 'general masses' solve their problem. The gall!

8:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You may be interested in the latest issue of Harpers Magazine. Their 'annotation' this month covers the topic of allergy hysteria.

1:55 PM  

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