As the school year revs into gear, food allergies will weigh heavily on many parents’ minds. According to the United States Center for Disease Control, more than 3 million children enrolled in schools had a food allergy in 2007, up nearly 20 percent from a decade earlier. Many of these food allergies are life threatening, with kids going into anaphylactic shock after unknowingly consuming peanut, milk, or soy products.
While there are many guidelines for schools, there is no wide sweeping federal mandate regarding students dealing with food allergies. Many students avoid allergic reactions by sitting at special peanut-free lunch tables or classrooms for severely allergic students. However, many parents protest segregating students because of their food allergies. Another group of parents want to completely ensure their children’s safety, and encourage peanut-free zones in the cafeteria. Other parents want a complete ban on peanut products: unfortunately, it is very difficult to completely ban peanut butter and other related products from schools. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are often the centerpiece of a child’s lunch, as they are easy to make, nutritious, and relatively inexpensive.
Still, allergies have grown into a critical issue at many schools throughout the country. More children and adults have food allergies than ever before. According to a study at Children’s Hospital in Boston, Mass., the number of food related allergic reactions in children doubled from 164 cases in 2001 to 391 just five years later in 2006. The study also noted an increase in anaphylaxis, one of the most dangerous types of allergic reactions. When a person goes into anaphylactic shock, they may experience sudden rash, breathing issues, dizziness, vomiting, and a dramatic blood pressure drop. More than 30,000 individuals, children and adults alike, will go to the emergency room for allergic reactions to food every year.
While some children outgrow their allergies, some still suffer from food allergies well into adulthood. Those allergic to peanuts and tree nuts suffer from more severe reactions, and they are also less likely to outgrow their allergies as they grow older. As a result, managing care for food allergies in colleges and universities has grown more important in the 21st century.
Colleges are working hard to give students with food allergies safe food alternatives. Although an estimated 4 percent of the population has a food allergy, only a small percentage of these college students ask staff for help finding alternatives. Still, many colleges offer frozen meals and gluten free bread for such students. At Franklin and Marshall College, dining halls are completely nut free and foods like granola are clearly marked so allergic students can avoid them. Other schools like Tufts provide online menus with clickable ingredient lists, and food cards made for every meal on the menu to ensure safety.
At the College of the Holy Cross, students have access to a wide variety of allergy free meals. Students can pre-order such meals from the campus dining hall, where staff makes meals specifically for the student. In the case that the student forgets to order meals in advance, the dining hall boasts an allergy free kitchen stocked with supplies necessary to make a meal. This approach allows students to eat with friends despite their allergies.
While many universities across the country are working hard to improve food quality for students, there is still much to be done for younger students. It is imperative that we make school cafeterias and mealtimes safe for our children, no matter what their age or allergy.