Nuts, or batsh!t crazy?

My wife and I discuss this topic often. Are there really THAT many kids deathly allergic to peanuts out there? And is it because parents have historically gotten more and more mental about keeping their kids clean and germ free? I tend to think so. In any case, here is a great article from TIME discussing this very thing…

Five years ago, at a San Francisco elementary school, a nurse stood by to ensure that children scrubbed their hands as they arrived, while all of their packed lunches were confiscated and searched for nut products. The measures were a precaution to protect a five-year-old boy in the class who had a severe nut allergy.

In 2006, a town in Connecticut felled three hickory trees more than 60 feet high after a resident learned that the trees leaning over her property produced nuts, and complained that they posed a threat to her grandson who had nut allergies. (Read TIME’s Top 10 medical breakthroughs of 2008.)

Recently, a Massachusetts school district evacuated a school bus full of 10-year-olds after a stray peanut was found on the bus floor.

Do these safeguards seem a little, well, nuts? Harvard professor Dr. Nicholas Christakis thinks so. One of Christakis’s children attends school in the district that ordered the bus evacuation, and the episode prompted the physician and social scientist — best known for his work on the social “contagiousness” of characteristics such as obesity and happiness — to write a commentary, published in the British Medical Journal, questioning whether these so-called precautions are snowballing into something more like a societal hysteria.

Of the roughly 3.3 million Americans who have nut allergies, about 150 die from allergy-related causes each year, notes Christakis. Compare those figures to the 100 people who are killed yearly by lightning, 45,000 who die in car crashes, and 1,300 killed in gun accidents. As a society, Christakis says, our priorities have been seriously skewed, and it’s largely a result of fear. “My interest is in understanding [the reaction to nut allergies] as a spread of anxiety,” he says.

Between 1997 and 2007, the number of children under 18 who suffered from food allergies jumped 17%, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Experts don’t disagree that the incidence of food allergy has increased, but there isn’t much consensus about why. Some researchers suggest that an overly hygienic lifestyle may hamper the body’s ability to build up proper immunities; others believe the statistical rise is a combination of a real increase in allergies and an increase in the number of patients seeking diagnosis (i.e., getting allergy tests that turn up very low levels of reaction that might have otherwise gone undiscovered). “You have to distinguish between an epidemic of diagnoses and an epidemic of allergies,” says Christakis.

No one would disagree that children who suffer from life-threatening allergies need to be protected, but the growing trend of demonizing nuts only fuels anxiety, Christakis says. Instilling in the general public the idea that nuts are “a clear and present danger” does little beyond heightening panic. “There are kids with severe allergies and they need to be taken seriously,” he says, “but the problem with a disproportionate response is that it feeds the epidemic.

There’s even some evidence to suggest that establishing nut-free zones or nut-free schools may be detrimental to children’s health, and increases their risk of developing nut allergies. A study of 86,000 Jewish children living in the U.K. and in Israel, cited by Christakis in his article, revealed that those who had more exposure to peanuts earlier in life were less likely to become allergic later on. In the U.K., where peanuts are an infrequent part of the diet, nearly 2% of the children studied developed allergies; in Israel, where peanuts are a common part of diet from infancy onward, only 0.17% of children had a nut allergy.

But Dr. Robert Wood, chief of the Pediatric Allergy and Immunology department at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, cautions against putting too much stock in such epidemiological studies. “The reality is that the vast majority of kids — 95% plus — have no potential to get peanut allergies no matter what you do,” he says, “and there’s one-half to 1% who are going to get it no matter what you do.” Although the findings of the U.K.-Israel study are intriguing, he says, they apply to a very small percentage of children, and more research needs to be done to determine the true impact of early nut exposure. (There is a study underway currently, says Wood, but the results won’t be available for another three years.)

Despite the occasional cases of nut over-precaution, Wood thinks the public generally approaches the allergy risk with common sense. “There are definitely situations where we see a fear of the allergy that develops far out of proportion to the true risk, but for the vast majority of schools, things are mostly on balance and in perspective,” says Wood, who treats some 2,000 allergy patients. Further, he says, it’s important to recognize that the appropriate protective measure depends on the age group in question. “We recommend very different approaches between an early preschooler and a late elementary schooler,” he says. “We view preschool children as being at true risk — sharing food, having messy hands. There are many reactions that occur from those kinds of exposures,” he says. “I think that having peanut-free preschools is a totally reasonable, justifiable thing to do.” For older children, however, in the 4th or 5th grade, he says even minor precautions like specialized seating arrangements in the cafeteria are probably unnecessary.

Still, on blogs run by moms of children with nut allergies, there is a consistent rallying cry for nut-free zones. The concern is airborne nut dust, which can be inhaled, or oily nut residues that can come into contact with children’s skin. Wood, who has been allergic to nuts all his life, says these parents’ worries may be exaggerated. The danger may depend on the severity of the allergy, but has much more to do with the degree of contact, he says. “Nut oils or the kinds of things that might be in a classroom — it’s very rare for that exposure to cause anything more than a localized reaction,” he says. “On the other hand, if you’re a preschooler and your hands are in your mouth a lot, all bets are off.”

As for nut dust in the air, Wood says it can cause severe reactions — but only under specific circumstances, with high concentrations of nut dust in a confined space. At a baseball game, for example, where the dust is quickly dispersed through the air, the risk of an allergic reaction is low. But if you sat a long time in the small waiting room of a restaurant with a dish of nuts and servers who kept passing through, with plates of nuts, your risk of an allergic reaction would be higher, he says.

But like Christakis, Wood cautions against excessive alarm. “It’s an unfortunate situation,” says Wood, “if a family with an inaccurate perception of the allergy leads a child to believe that a Snickers bar from 50 feet away is a lethal weapon.”

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Stupidity…when parents are their own worst enemy

Can a company sue a parent for being stupid and improperly using their products? Not likely…and that is a shame.

Not long ago I wrote about a group of parents who tried to sue MySpace because their kids became involved in one way or another with a sex predator. My favorite quote in that story from MySpace amounted to “if the child had been contacted by the predator by phone, would you be suing the phone company?”

Then, this past weekend, one of my wife’s girlfriends forwarded an article from CNN about Bumbo recalling a million of their seats due to infants falling out and sustaining head injuries. After reading through the article I was disgusted to figure out that Bumbo was voluntarily recalling all of these seats because of user error. Ignorant parents were placing their kids in a Bumbo that was up on a counter or table-top (and then – I can only guess – leaving them unattended). To this I say, shame on the stupid parents and not shame on the product. Having purchased one and having used it like crazy, it is still one of my favorite products! I had my daughter in it all the time, and I too placed it on elevated surfaces (though I know for a fact that it is written on the box that you should not do this). The difference is that I was right next to her and/or watching over her every second she was in the Bumbo, and the moment it looked as though she was unstable or might fall over or out of the seat, I either took her out of it, or placed it back down on the floor.

If she HAD fallen out and gotten hurt, then double dumb-ass on me for not paying closer attention. In no way shape or form should Bumbo be held accountable for my ignorance. And yet here they are voluntarily recalling a million seats until they can more clearly mark the packaging and product itself with clear and explicit warnings about placing the Bumbo on elevated surfaces.

And do you know what? It won’t matter, because some dumbass is going to do it anyway, their kid is going to get hurt, and they’re going to sue Bumbo for their own ignorance, and they’ll probably win…

When oh when are people going to learn (probably never) that these types of products are not a substitute for actual parenting??? <link>

Child Safety: Sage advice from a t-shirt….TV chimes in too

Child safety. Everyone has an opinion and people you have never met in your life are quick to point out whatever it is you’re doing wrong with your child. For instance, My wife and I were walking through a department store, pushing along the stroller with baby. A woman looks at our daughter and immediately says, “you’d better cover those baby’s feetMr. Yuck up!”. Thank you safety Nazi! My daughter might have suffered frost bite if not for your alert and astute observation. And then there was this time in the library. My daughter went through this “upside down” phase. When cradling her in your arms, she loved to have her head hang out over the edge of my arms and just dangle there upside down. It was calming for her. So I’m holding her like that in the library one time when she had started to get “fussy” and I’m waiting for the elevator. Some strange dude makes it very clear to me that I’m supposed to support the baby’s head with my arms and not let her head dangle like that. Eureka! I’m so glad he was there to tell me that. I shutter to think what would have happened otherwise. But this is the best of all….A sticker, placed on thesafety first bottom of the lid of a large tupperware bin. A picture of a baby sitting inside the tupperware bin, with the lid being put on top sealing the baby in. And a big red circle with a line through it. You’re telling me DON’T store my baby in a tupperware bin? Holy shit! I’m so glad I saw that. I mean seriously, that sage advice saved me one uncomfortable conversation with the Charlotte PD. And so now that I possess this great wisdom, I feel it neccessary to spread the word the only way I know how…via a t-shirt. If this advice helps save even one baby, then it will all be worth it. Along those same lines, I was also blessed with another brilliant piece of advice, though at least this was in jest. I’m sure all you Scrubs fans out there know what I’m talking about. That’s right…Don’t Smother Your Kids.

Thank you Zach Braff!