New Data Suggest Education Could Mitigate Food Allergy Anaphylaxes in Schools

Post-survey responses show educators were eager to learn more about how to prevent students from experiencing food-anaphylactic reactions.

Researchers in Spain contributed to the dialogue surrounding food allergy and anaphylaxis in young students with a study that focused on the influence of information and communication technologies (ICT) in school-staff’s education on the subject.

Food-anaphylactic reactions affect 2-8% of all people ≤18 years old across the world. According to the study, 1 in 10,000 children experience a food-anaphylactic reaction during school hours.

The study called for increased communication on food allergies and anaphylaxis in schools across Spain through educational interventions (EI). However, the team, led by Paloma Poza-Guedes, noted some of the limitations of current EIs.

“There is limited research on the effectiveness of educational interventions for food allergies, and the quality of eHealth resources is uncertain because the developers of eHealth instruments often have no health care training, and health professionals are generally not involved in the design of these tools,” the investigators wrote. ”Thus, there is a demand for the school and the health system to improve their preparedness to handle students with FAs.”

During the study Poza-Guedes and colleagues enacted their own digital intervention supported by the Aulatic Educational Platform.

A total of 1748 school-instructors from 1134 teaching facilities were tasked with answering questionnaires that evaluated the educators' knowledge, feelings, and self-efficacy on FAA. A satisfaction and quality survey of the training program was included.

All participants were enrolled between May 2016 and June 2020, and were required to attend at least one of the bi-monthly online courses the study offered.

The 5 EI programs covered topics such as:

1. Introduction to allergies in the local school setting.

2. Definitions and basic concepts of food and latex allergies, with descriptions of involved allergic mechanisms.

3. Signs and symptoms of food allergies and anaphylaxis.

4. Treatment and management of food allergy reactions.

5. Development and explanation of a detailed food allergy emergency action plan in the participating school or institution.

The participants were given access to a multitude of educational tools as well as a digital library that included videos on clinical symptoms of food allergy, individual food allergy plans, methods on adrenaline self-administration and more. A forum section moderated by allergists was also included, which allowed educators to ask a variety of food allergy-related questions.

A final written examination was offered, and a minimum score of 80% was needed to pass.

Pre- and post- survey were conducted during the study. The surveys subjects included awareness of food allergies in the school setting (81.82% of all participants said food allergies were “troublesome for the school staff”) and self-competence evaluations.

Prior to the study, only 17.9% of participants considered themselves capable of delivering aid in the event of a food allergy reaction during school hours. Post-survey results were markedly different, with 72.78% of participants having recorded that they felt “confident in facing an unexpected (food allergy) situation within the educational facility”.

In addition to an increased awareness on FA from participants, the team also noted a demand for food allergy-related educational programs.

“The high enrollment rate of nearly 1700 participants and a substantial completion rate (approximately 80%) was found for the current EI across the 4-year study period, highlighting the interest and demand for quality (food allergy) e-education as a practical training in the school setting,” the team wrote.

“Interestingly, the demand for this digital EI doubled during the mandatory COVID-19 confinement in Spain, indicating the participants' willingness to devote time to self-education and acquire new professional skills.”

Conversations surrounding food allergy and anaphylaxis in recent years were often dominated by fear, lack of knowledge and poor training. But Poza-Gueded and colleagues believed their study, and the notable success of the EI that was included, provided a path forward to educators.

“Although constant improvement to overcome limitations is warranted, such as obtaining evidence on the effectiveness in terms of pedagogical parameters, eHealth applications have become a compelling educational tool, necessitating the continued exploration of these contemporary technologies,” the investigators wrote.

“Digital mentoring from allergists through ICT learning tools may be both effective and stimulating, enhancing educators' understanding and self-efficacy to ensure safer and socially inclusive (food allergy) management in schools.”

The study, “Implementing information and communication technology education on food allergy and anaphylaxis in the school setting,” was published online in Clinical and Translational Allergy.