Whitesburg KY

All schools need same rules for food allergies, group says


When Danielle Davis attended school in Rapid City, SD, her mother didn’t worry much about her being exposed to peanuts, a food that could kill the severely allergic teenager.

Danielle’s high school had a food allergy policy, and she had no problems during her nine months there.

But when the two moved to Charleston in 2006, everything changed.

“Every day I send her out I never know whether or not I’m going to have to go and get her, whether I’m going to be called and told that she’s in the emergency room or if she’s going to make it that day,” said Jennifer Davis.

These are common worries for the parents of children with food allergies when they move to a new school, according to Anne Munoz-Furlong, founder and chief executive officer of the Food Allergies & Anaphylaxis Network. The Alexandria, Va.- based nonprofit is pushing for a federal law to create uniform guidelines for schools to follow to protect the estimated 2 million school-age children with food allergies.

“Some schools have very comprehensive plans – they’ve been working with food allergies for a long time – and others are just getting started and they don’t know what to do,” Munoz-Furlong said.

When Danielle’s peanut and tree nut allergies first developed, she was attending a U.S. Department of Defense school in Landstuhl, Germany. Her mother worked with officials to create a policy there to handle food allergies in schools, but the Davises left for South Dakota shortly after it was implemented.

Davis said she had to start from square one in Charleston – meeting with, and providing food allergy literature to, Capital High School’s principal, teachers, cooks, nurses and the county’s schools superintendent.

Even though Capital High now has a policy that bans nut products, Danielle said it isn’t vigorously enforced.

Danielle is terrified to attend school on the days following big candy holidays like Halloween and Easter because students bring peanut butter cups and other goodies with them.

Her nut allergy is so severe that she can go into shock if a child across a table or a school bus aisle eats peanut butter candy. She takes four allergy medications every morning and carries two pens of self-injectable epinephrine, a form of adrenaline, everywhere she goes in case she starts to have a reaction.

“Having peanuts in my face is like having a loaded gun held to your head,” said Danielle, who estimates that during the past school year she suffered 20 reactions that landed her in the emergency room or a clinic for breathing treatments.

Many schools and school districts in the U.S. have allergy policies, but only Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island and Tennessee have statewide plans, according to the National Association of State Boards of Education.

While several other states have developed guidelines, U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, who introduced the legislation, told a Senate panel last month that “without federal guidance, a child’s health and safety may be protected in one school but not in another.”

The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Management Act passed the House in April and is pending in the Senate.

The Connecticut Democrat knows firsthand about the problem. His 6-year-old daughter Grace is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, shell fish, sesame and tropical fruits and has gone into shock four times. Like Davis, Dodd and his wife have had to educate Grace’s school and her teachers about food allergies.

A Duke University Medical Center study released in 2007 says children are developing food allergies at younger ages.

The number of children under age 5 suffering from peanut allergy alone has doubled in the past decade, said Dr. Wesley Burks, the study’s senior author.

Researchers can’t say why food allergies have increased, but one theory is that society has become too hygienic, which deprives children’s immune systems from building up their defenses, Burks said.

An estimated 12 million Americans have food allergies, which occur when the immune system identifies a food as harmful and triggers antibodies to attack it.

Eight foods account for 90 percent of all allergic reactions – peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition says food allergies lead to 150 deaths, 30,000 emergency room visits and 2,000 hospitalizations each year.

Country singer Trace Adkins is using his celebrity status to raise awareness and lobby for the federal bill. His 6-year-old daughter Brianna suffers from nut, dairy and egg allergies.

“When I was a kid, I didn’t know anybody that had any food allergies,” said Adkins. “We’re doing something to our babies that are causing them to develop these allergies.”

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