Peanut allergies. We probably all know someone (or someone that knows someone) who is coping with this usually lifelong, and potentially fatal, allergy. Fearful parents are taking huge precautions which is resulting in debates about “over-protection”. According to recent studies, exposing children from a young age to these allergies can actually help prevent them from developing in later life. So are parents being over-protective or can you never be too careful?
In a recent study conducted by Australian researchers, various methods involving peanut consumption were evaluated in order to discover the best ways to prevent the development of this allergy. 640 infants were involved in the study, with 50 % consuming peanuts in small dosages and the other 50% avoiding them completely, until the age of 60 months. The results were significant as they showed that early introduction of peanuts appeared to lower the likelihood of the allergy developing in a number of cases.
The question which arises is whether complete abstinence of peanut consumption is actually increasing the likelihood of the development of this allergy. It seems logical, and is consistent with the outcome of the Australian research, that only with exposure can a tolerance buildup.
No more peanut butter jelly time?
I know from my own experience how difficult dealing with a peanut allergy can be. My younger cousin has been dealing with an acute form of the allergy his whole life and the pressure rests on his parents to ensure that he is never in contact with peanuts.. Children with the most extreme forms of this allergy will react to products that are even processed in the same factories as peanuts. This is a case that should not be taken lightly, and it is the parent’s job to protect their children from an anaphylactic shock which can, in very serious cases, cause death.
There has been an enormous increase of people suffering from peanut allergies, and with that a number of peanut-related horror stories being published online. The lack of medical guidance has resulted in parents being extra cautious. A minority of parents have even decided to exclude peanuts from their children’s diet completely, before they have even developed an allergy.
One of the most well-known precautions taken in America are the introduction of nut-free classrooms. In these schools all peanut related products are prohibited in the classrooms. This also includes the so-called peanut butter-jelly sandwiches.
An unfair priority?
Unsurprisingly, parents in support of these “nut-free schools” are those with a close connection to someone with an allergy. These parents argue that they feel misunderstood and claim that other parents are being selfish. Is a PBJ sandwich more important than another child’s life?
Parents against the introduction of nut-free schools questioned the neglect of other food allergies like milk and wheat, and even those who suffer from lactose intolerance. They argue that you can never ban all the food for allergic people, or there would surely be no food left and they ask where the line should be drawn. Also, some argue that banning products or product-types could contribute to weakening the immune system.
The question that therefore remains is: should parents protect their children by avoiding contact with peanuts completely from a very early age, or might they be more robust than parents think and could some early exposure to peanuts help to build up tolerance?