Peanut butter & jelly…once considered a lunchtime classic in school cafeterias everywhere, may soon be extinct! Some school districts are aiming to ban peanut products entirely to help protect kids with peanut allergies. And the reason may be justified. New research shows peanut allergies may have tripled over the last decade! The issue of banning nuts in schools has fueled a huge debate. When Shine covered this topic last week, the article generated thousands of comments, with many outraged and opposed to a school ban on peanuts. In fact, a big question that continued to resurface was: why are peanut allergies so prevalent today? So we took that question to “The Shine” to find out.
Dr. Clifford Bassett, a top allergy specialist at New York University Medical Center says no one really knows why nut allergies have risen so much. One theory is called a “hygiene hypothesis”. “Over-sanitizing the world the first couple of years of life and the immune system is not developing in a robust way”, says Dr. Bassett. “Antibiotics the first year of life, not being exposed to kids that are sick and keeping them segregated, western diet, and all of this over-sanitizing, the immune system may be looking around, not attacking bacteria and other infectious problems, looking for things such as harmless food allergens, attacking the wrong thing.” Dr. Bassett says there have even been studies connecting food allergies with minimal sun exposure. “A low vitamin D level in the first couple of yeas of life may correlate with more allergies, especially food allergies”. Dr. Bassett says everything that was probably considered bad years ago, exposure to pets, exposure to dirt, exposure to kids with infections, “is probably good for your immune system the first couple of years of life to strengthen it”.
So, what can parents do to feel safe sending their allergic children to school? Dr. Bassett recommends an action plan with your child, pediatrician, allergist, and school staff, “early in the year so everyone is on the same page.” While there is no treatment for peanut or food allergies, Dr. Bassett says education, avoidance, and preparedness are the keys to keeping an allergic child safe.