Why is it important to raise awareness for something like food allergies? We seem to be hit with “awareness” campaigns on a daily basis. Cancer, heart disease, autism… the list goes on and on. Do awareness campaigns really help?
Yes, they do. By making the general population aware and informed about a disease, awareness campaigns help people recognize symptoms they might have missed, help them realize that their neighbors or friends may be affected, identify ways they can help affected friends, spur donations to research the disease for causes and treatments, drive school and workplace policies to become more accommodating, and give the entire population more tools to help prevent the disease’s spread.
Thirteen years ago, when my son was diagnosed with food allergies, there wasn’t much “awareness” of food allergies. Resources were slim, even online, and few people seemed to have heard of them. Schools were unprepared for food-allergic students, restaurants were completely clueless, and even pediatricians seemed uninformed.
Now, most schools are developing food allergy policies, many restaurants can provide lists of common allergens in their foods (and some will even prepare food specially to accommodate common allergies), and almost everyone seems to have heard of food allergies now (and most seem to know at least one person with food allergies). That’s all because of the tremendous effort the food allergy community has exerted over the last decade to “raise awareness.” Food allergies have been featured in news reports, magazine articles, and even written into TV shows and movie scripts. Celebrities have raised support because of their food-allergic children. We have Food Allergy Walks, conferences, and booths at health fairs. The book shelves are now packed with food allergy cookbooks. There’s even a Cub Scout “Food Allergy Aware” patch.
We’ve come a long way, baby.
But not far enough. In the last two months, four children have died because they didn’t have epinephrine with them, or it was administered too late. Gwen Smith, from Allergic Living magazine, writes about these tragic deaths and how we need to educate everyone about epinephrine use: “Food AllergyAwareness 2013: There’s Much Work to Do.” Her article reminds us of how important this education is.
So, for this year’s Food Allergy Awareness Week, look for ways to help spread awareness and information. It doesn’t have to be complicated – in fact, simple is great! Start with downloading Allergic Living magazine’s poster “Six That Save Lives,” and ask your school, workplace, or church to post it where it might save a life. Then check out the Facebook page for the Utah Food Allergy Network (UFAN) and see their flyer for ideas on how to promote food allergy awareness every day this week. Or get creative – post an allergy-free recipe on your Facebook page, donate a food-allergy book to your school library, thank your favorite restaurant manager for making it safe for your family to eat there, or send a thank you card with the recipe for your favorite allergy-free dessert to a favorite teacher, coach, babysitter, family member, or friend who goes out of their way to keep you or your child safe.
However you raise awareness this week, know that your effort, no matter how small, will trigger a ripple of knowledge that will help make the world a safe place for all of us.