Ned, 7, is allergic to nuts but his parents have decided the house should not be nut-free. Photo: Arsineh HouspianBanning nuts in schools for older children does not protect them from anaphylactic attacks, but can instead cause resentment and bullying of the growing number of kids with food allergies, schools and parents are now being told.
Official anaphylaxis prevention guidelines have been updated by the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy to explicitly state that food bans in upper primary and high schools do not work, and can actually cause problems.
And the new guidelines have the support of Parents Victoria, an organisation representing parents of students in the state’s government schools.
“Routine food bans in this setting have not been proven to reduce risk, are difficult to enforce, may result in a false sense of security, may trigger resentment and lack of co-operation with more important measures and may at times result in bullying of the individual [allergy sufferer],” the soon-to-be-published ASCIA guidelines state.
The guidelines of the allergy body, which represents allergy specialists, state there can be reasons for restrictions in early primary and preschool years.
Despite the official advice, many schools are heeding parental anxiety and banning nuts and even dairy to protect the burgeoning number of students with food allergies.
It is estimated that four per cent of Australian five year olds now suffer a food allergy. There has been tenfold increase in the number of patients visiting allergy specialists in the past 20 years, according to Dr Raymond Mullins, chairman of the ASCIA anaphylaxis committee.
As the so-called ‘Allergy Generation’ grows up, the rate of admissions of children aged 5–14 to hospital for severe life-threatening allergic reactions more than doubled between 2005 and 2012, according to research by Dr Mullins published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology this week.
Yet allergy specialists say food bans are particularly pointless when the Allergy Generation reaches high school, because it is impossible to police their eating.
“Most teenagers will not have a school teacher or parent checking what they do or don’t eat,” Dr Mullins said.
Schools require parents to alert them if their child has an allergy, and the school must put in place an appropriate management plan. Victorian public school teachers are required to complete anaphylaxis training every three years and to participate in twice-yearly briefings.
But the Victorian education department does not require schools to ban food that may cause an anaphylactic attack.
Victorian education department spokeswoman Bridget Maidment said they continually reviewed their advice to schools in light of new research.
“We have a rigorous set of policies and procedures in place to help our schools minimise the risk of anaphylaxis and effectively manage any reactions, including individual health management plans for each child who identifies as having a serious allergy,” Ms Maidment said.
Parents Victoria spokeswoman Elaine Crowle said rather than putting a ban on certain foods, it was important that schools followed state government’s anaphylaxis management guidelines.
“We understand that parents whose children have (allergies) would prefer the ban to remain,” Ms Crowle said.
“But as long as safeguards are in place, the teachers are trained and the children’s anaphylaxis management plans are up-to-date, it is probably not necessary to have a ban on bringing in nuts to school.
“I don’t think we can wrap our kids in cottonwool.”
Amy Dowling’s son Ned, 7, is allergic to all nuts, except peanuts. But Ms Dowling said she thought it was “wonderful” his school was not nut-free.
Ms Dowling said Ned’s school had a policy of kids not sharing food, but operated on the basis that children with allergies would have to grow up in an environment where they could be potential risks.
The Dowlings ate nuts at home, and Ned was taught not to go near certain labelled jars. Being touch-sensitive to cashews, Ned also knew to wipe the table when he sat down for his own safety.
“We’re bringing him up to be aware, rather than hiding it from him,” Ms Dowling said. “He knows not to eat nuts.”
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