A recap of the tweet chat on 8/26 with Kait Turshen of BubbleGirlBakes.com:
Q1: What are the latest statistics on food allergies in the US?
According to the Food Allergy Research and Education organization, approximately 15 million Americans have food allergies--this is as many as entire population of Georgia & Colorado combined!
Food allergies affect 1 out of 13 children in the US- this is roughly 2 kids per classroom.
A 2013 study by the Centers for Disease Control found that food allergies in children have increased by 50% from 1997 to 2011.
Every 3 minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency department – that is more than 200,000 emergency department visits per year.
Q2: What are some of the risk factors known to increase one's chances of developing food allergies?
Greatest risk comes from genetics. If a child’s parents have allergies, then the child is at an increased risk. If both parents are healthy, then the child has a low risk (5-15%) of developing allergies
Environmental factors like lifestyle, diet, health can also be risk factors. For example:
Being indoors all the time, constantly exposed to dustmites can lead to dustmite allergy
Consuming many canned goods can lead to an additive allergy, like sulphites.
Eating too many peanuts in 1 sitting can lead to a peanut allergy
Delayed introduction of foods to children
Asthma is also a risk factor, as it commonly occurs with a food allergy. When it does, symptoms tend to be more severe
Q3: Why are there so many more children with food allergies now-a-days?
There are several theories as to why there has been a rise in documented allergies:
Hygiene theory says that many more children are growing up in strict "germ-free" environments and this does not allow the immune system to develop properly.
In the past, kids grew up playing in the dirt, on farms, in daycares, with multiple siblings where they were exposed to germs. Check out this infographic from UCLA.
A typical child’s diet has changed considerably during the last 30-40 years. There are more processed foods containing additives and less fresh produce and foods.
Decrease in the number of children being breastfed. Breast milk contains several immune-building nutrients.
Breast milk being replaced with manufactured formulas--albeit nutrient dense, will never be the same as breast milk.
Research has shown lower incidence of allergies & strong immune system in breastfed infants
Some research indicates increased GMO consumption has led to rise in allergies—but NOT because it has affected our health..
Protein manipulation has placed allergens in other foods. For example, brazil nut gene transplant into soy-bean has lead people who are allergic to Brazil nuts become allergic to these modified soybeans
Some GMO research has had positive effects, such as creating a non-allergenic peanut
Q4: Is there anything allergy-free children or parents can do to avoid developing food allergies?
Help keep the immune system strong!
Eat a healthy, balanced diet and get enough protein--the building blocks of an immune system
Zinc and Selenium are two essential minerals that support the immune system
Too much zinc can actually decrease the function of your immune system
Probiotics (like those in yogurt) can help keep gut bacteria healthy and support a healthy immune system
Maintain a healthy weight
Get enough sleep
Exercise regularly--but not too much, because it can weaken the immune system
Don't be TOO clean
Q5: What are some things parents can do to before school starts to prepare the safety of a food allergic child?
Plan early. Start planning before the school year starts! Meeting and communicating with school officials is very important
Show proof. Provide school officials a letter from the pediatrician or allergist – it should include precautions and treatment recommendations
Develop a good relationship w the school--its the essential key to success in keeping the child safe
Learn from others. Try meeting the parents of other children with allergies, to see what has worked for them and learn about their experience
Coordinate a plan of action (with your child's teacher or school official) what to do if something were to go wrong.
Find out if the school has any food allergy management or emergency policies & be sure they have multiple doses of epinephrine on hand.
Discuss (with teacher) ways in which your child might describe their symptoms (instead of saying “my tongue is swelling” a 4-yr old might say their “tongue feels funny."
Ask about food sharing rules.
Tell the teacher it's ok to call you to ask questions if they have any doubts about something.
Make sure your child knows how to use an EPI pen on themselves.
Make allergy cards. If your budget permits, consider printing some allergy cards. They're like business cards but contain your child's picture and pertinent food allergy info.
Q6: Who are the best people on a school staff for parents to speak with regarding their child's food allergies?
Any staff member that is present during snack and lunchtimes, as well as anyone that would be present in the event of a reaction. School nurses, teacher’s aides, and cafeteria staff should be in the know.
Q7: What can parents do to prepare their child for school days when birthday or holiday treats are served that are probably not allergy-friendly?
At the beginning of the year, request a calendar from your child’s teacher for any and all events where outside food may be served; from school picnics and field trips to student birthdays and holiday parties.
A calendar will allow you to plan ahead so that you can send along an allergy friendly treat for each occasion and your kiddo will never miss out on any sweet treat fun!
Q8: What can a parent do to help their child deal with the psychological impact of food allergies?
Listen empathetically. Understand how your child feels.
Think ahead. Figure out how to solve problems before they occur. This will help your child feel more in control.
Role play. Rehearse what your child should say if someone offers food or asks about their food allergies so they feel prepared & confident.
Educate as many people as possible--school teachers, other parents, cafeteria personnel, etc.--about food allergies & things they can do to include kids with allergies in social situations.
Instill trust in your child & make sure they can always tell you if they're having problems at school because of their food allergies.
Tell them it’s not their fault—they are not defined by their food allergies-and that it’s ok to feel the way they do.
As parent, you should stay calm about food allergy management—don't project anxiety, because children take cues on handling challenging situations from their parents.
Positive attention & praise for a child’s use of coping strategies can help build sense of self-efficacy & confidence.
Q9: What are some easy, allergen-friendly lunchbox ideas for parents to make?