Monday, September 26, 2011

FAI’s Food Allergy Prevalence Study

by Kelley Lindberg

In 2008, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimated that 1 in every 25 children had a food allergy. Now, just three years later, a new survey sponsored by the Food Allergy Initiative (FAI) estimates that 8%, or 1 out of every 13 children, has a food allergy.

Published in the July 2011 issues of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, this latest study analyzes interviews from over 38,000 households with at least 1 child under 18 years of age to discover “The Prevalence, Severity, and Distribution of Childhood Food Allergy in the United States.”

One out of every 13 children is an alarming number – that means 2 children in every classroom in the United States has a food allergy. This study verifies what many people in the food allergy community and in the medical profession have been feeling for some time – food allergies are increasing at an appalling rate.

Here are some of the other findings published in this study, published on FAI’s website:
  • 38.7 percent of the children in the survey had a severe or life-threatening allergy
  • 30.4 percent had multiple food allergies
  • Children with food allergies were most commonly allergic to peanuts (25.2 percent), milk (21.1 percent) and shellfish (17.2 percent), followed by tree nuts (13.1 percent), and egg (9.8 percent)
  • Severe reactions were most common among children with a tree nut, peanut, shellfish, soy, or fin fish allergy
  • Children aged 14-17 years were most likely to have a severe food allergy
  • Food allergies affect children in all geographic regions
  • Asian and African American children were more likely to have a convincing history of food allergy, but were less likely to receive a formal diagnosis when compared to white children

While food allergy has been an increasing concern in the medical world, sparking a growing number of research projects and studies, this new study may help to propel even more projects into the funding spotlight. In addition to potential treatments and cures, research into the possible causes of food allergy, as well as identification of the individual protein molecules that cause reactions, will carry us much further towards a real understanding of this complex and frustratingly confusing disease.
In addition, the results of this survey may encourage more food manufacturers to examine their production processes and facilities for ways to more closely control cross-contamination with the major allergens. Especially for manufacturers of kid-oriented foods and snacks, knowing they are eliminating up to 8% of their potential customers by not adhering to strict allergen cross-contamination prevention may be just the catalyst they need to change their processes.
It would be easy to look at this study and see only the bad news: food allergies are becoming more wide-spread. But it’s important to look at the positive news this also represents: because food allergies are becoming so wide-spread, more researchers, manufacturers, chefs, teachers, doctors, coaches, colleagues, and neighbors will become committed to finding cures, treatments, safe practices, recipes, and other solutions to eliminating food allergy from our world sooner, rather than later.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Teach the Teachers with C.A.R.E.

by Kelley Lindberg

School is in full-swing now, but students aren’t the only ones learning. Teachers are also learning this year, thanks to a new online course called “How to C.A.R.E. for Students with Food Allergies – What Educators Should Know.”

This course was prepared through a collaboration of the Food Allergy Initiative (FAI), the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), Anaphylaxis Canada, the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (CSACI), and Leap Learning Technologies. The course was funded by FAI, and the curriculum is based on FAAN’s well-respected Safe@School® program.

Available at, the course helps educators (and anyone else who is interested, from day care providers to camp counselors) learn how to create an allergy-smart school environment, using the C.A.R.E. approach:
  • Comprehend the basic facts about food allergies
  • Avoid the allergen
  • Recognize the symptom of a reaction, and
  • Enact emergency protocol
The best part is, the online course is FREE. It takes less than an hour to go through the course, which covers everything from what a food allergy is, to how to spot allergy risks in the classroom or cafeteria, to how to use an epinephrine auto-injector.

The course is available for free to anyone who registers at So tell your school, preschool, or other organization about it today, and you might help save a life tomorrow.

I’ve already gone through the course myself, and it is simple to use, easy to understand, and comprehensive. So if you’re looking for a way to teach your child’s teachers about food allergies, give this online course a try.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Two Food Allergy Deaths in Atlanta

by Kelley Lindberg

Last month, in two separate incidents, two different teenage boys in Atlanta died from apparent allergic reactions to food.

This is the type of news parents everywhere dread.

The first boy was a 15-year-old who was shopping with his aunt. While she shopped, he went out to her car to grab a chocolate chip cookie. He didn’t realize there were traces of peanuts in the cookie. After eating the cookie and realizing what it contained, he ran to a nearby McDonalds to rinse out his mouth, then took an over-the-counter medicine. Neither did enough to stop the reaction. By the time he was transported to a medical center, then flown to a hospital, it was too late. He didn’t carry an EpiPen even though he knew about his allergy, because he thought he was cautious enough. (“Teen Dies After Eating Cookie Containing Peanut”)

The second boy was a college student at Kennesaw State University, who apparently had a reaction to something he ate at the school’s Commons Student Culinary Center. He ate a meal there, then left. Then he returned to the Commons “in distress” and called 911. By the time he got to the hospital, he was dead. According to people who knew him, he was aware of his allergies and had used EpiPens “often.” But no one knows why he didn’t have one with him at the cafeteria that day. (“KSU Student Dies After Apparent Allergic Reaction”)

My heart bleeds for those parents, families, and friends. I can’t imagine anything worse.

Members of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology and the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) maintain a registry of fatalities from food allergy reactions so that they can try to identify patterns in these deaths, such as the type of food, where it was consumed, and the age and gender of the affected individual. The registry isn’t a systematic or complete record of all fatal food-induced allergic reactions in this country, but it helps show where more education is needed to help prevent these fatalities.

One of the patterns they’ve noted multiple times is that the largest percentage of fatalities is usually teenage boys who were allergic to peanuts or tree nuts, who consumed food away from home and didn’t have their epinephrine with them at the time.

Neither of the boys in Atlanta had an EpiPen.

As my own son enters his teenage years, I worry about him more and more. He’s forgetful. He’s image conscious. He’s always in a hurry. He doesn’t want to be bothered by having to carry things, keep up with things, or wear something bulky on his belt.

He’s a typical teenage boy.

That’s bad enough, by itself. But when a teenage boy has a severe health issue that he has to maintain, whether it’s food allergies, diabetes, epilepsy, or any other disease, it gets that much worse.

The only thing I can do is keep educating him, keep reminding him of the severe consequences of not taking his EpiPen with him everywhere he goes, show him stories like these, and engage him in finding his own solutions to the problem of how to carry those EpiPens, how to ask about ingredients, how to say no. I have to do everything I can to prepare him and educate him, and then trust him to make the right decisions even if I’m not there.

But I still hug him tighter every day.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Importance of Being Vigilant at Restaurants

by Kelley Lindberg

In May 2011, a report called “Restaurant Staff's Knowledge of Anaphylaxis and Dietary Care of People with Allergies” appeared in Clinical & Experimental Allergy, the journal of the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology. The authors, S. Bailey, R. Albardiaz, A.J. Frew, and H. Smith, reported on the results of a telephone questionnaire administered to staff members at 90 table-service restaurants in Brighton, England.

What they found was pretty disconcerting. The good news is “eighty-one percent reported confidence (very or somewhat) in providing a safe meal to a food-allergic customer.”

The bad news is that at least some portion of that 81% got a lot of their food allergy information wrong on the questionnaire, which means there’s a good chance they’ll contaminate a food-allergic customer’s food anyway.

Here are some of the highlights (lowlights?) of the report from the journal’s website:
  • 90% reported food hygiene training.
  • 33% reported specific food allergy training.
  • 56% could name three or more food allergens.
  • 38% believed an individual experiencing a reaction should drink water to dilute the allergen. (Not true!)
  • 23% thought consuming a small amount of an allergen is safe. (Not true!)
  • 21% reported allergen removal from a finished meal would render it safe. (Not true!)
  • 16% thought cooking food prevents it from causing allergy. (Not true in most cases! Some milk-allergic people can tolerate milk when it’s baked in foods, for example, but it should always be assumed that cooking does not render an allergen safe!)
  • 12% were unaware allergy could cause death. (Eeek!)
  • 48% expressed interest in further training on food allergy. (Well, at least that’s good news!)
This study is a good reminder that we can’t assume restaurant staff really understands the serious nature of a food allergy until we’ve discussed it with them fully.

Some of the tried-and-true methods for ensuring your dining-out experience will run as smoothly as possible include:
  1. Checking the restaurant’s website for allergen information
  2. Checking a restaurant site, like, for other customers’ reviews.
  3. Calling ahead and speaking with the manager about your specific allergies and what the restaurant can do to accommodate you.
  4. Carrying an allergy card with you that explains what you can and can’t eat (and if you’re traveling, get an allergy translation card, too, from
  5. Informing the waiter of your allergies, even if you’ve already talked to the manager.
  6. Double-checking when the food arrives that the cook prepared it safely.
  7. Keeping your EpiPens and antihistamine with you at all times.
Many restaurants are really making an effort to accommodate food-allergic customers, so it’s worth the extra effort to find the ones that will be safe for you.

(You just might be a little extra careful if a trip to Brighton, England, is in your future!)