More and More Schools Becoming Conscious of Food Allergies

As a result of the steady rise of food allergies observed over the last decade in American children, a growing number of schools have decided to take action by establishing "peanut-free" classrooms and sections of cafeterias. The ban even disallows children from bringing homemade classroom snacks.

As a result of the steady rise of food allergies observed over the last decade in American children, a growing number of schools have decided to take action by establishing “peanut-free” classrooms and sections of cafeterias. The ban even disallows children from bringing homemade classroom snacks.

Between the years of 1997 and 2007, an increase of 18% has taken place in the prevalence of reported food allergies among children under the age of 18. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), four out of every 100 children have a food allergy.

Food allergies have become particularly troublesome within classrooms, since 16%--18% of the 6 million children with food allergies in the US have suffered a reaction at school, according to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, a Fairfax, VA nonprofit organization.

The cause for the drastic increase seen in food allergies over the past decade is not certain yet; according to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, one theory revolves around the idea that children being born today are exposed to fewer germs, and as such, the immune system is deprived of its full-time "germ-fighting job.” This may cause the body to mislabel certain foods as dangerous.

Regardless of what is causing the increase, schools are begging to adapt to their student’s needs. Both Riverside Elementary East and West in Pennsylvania have recently joined the ranks of public schools which are attempting to make the classroom a safer place for students with food allergies.

"We're combating food allergies pretty progressively," reported Paul Brennan, principal at Riverside Elementary West. "We're putting safety first. It's a no-brainer."

Riverside is not the first school to begin taking such precautions against allergies; schools in the district of Scranton also have peanut-free classrooms, and children who attend Abington Heights who forget their lunch money are given a cheese sandwhich now instead of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, said Superintendent Michael Mahon, PhD.

Riverside's cafeteria no longer serves peanut butter. Instead, sun butter (a spread made from sunflower seeds) is a substitute, and a ban has been passed disallowing all homemade sweets from entering the school, as an allergy-suffering child could accidentally take a bite of something he or she could have a reaction to. An alternative is offered for this as well, however. Parents can buy cupcakes through the school cafeteria for parties; for holidays such as Halloween, no candy was allowed to be brought into school, but children were allowed to receive and exchange items such as pencils and erasers.

Mr. Brennan reported that some parents are not too happy with the new rules, but he stated that he "always challenge the parents to put themselves in the shoes of the family of the student who has the severe food allergy. Safety is our number one goal before any learning takes place."

An allergist with an office in Plains, Raymond Khoudary, MD, recently spoke with Riverside teachers and advised them on the guidelines the schools will be implementing soon. For instance, he suggested that food be banned on the bus as well as within the classroom. "You have to have people ready to act," he said. "The school should be prepared to handle a child with food allergies."

And it’s not just the teachers and administrators who need to be educated about allergies."Many times students share lunches," Khoudary said. "Sharing the food is a big issue the school has no control over."