As the school year ends, many school administrators along with parents and concerned health care providers are discussing modifications to their policies on food allergens, particularly the peanut.
As many communities ask themselves what to do, PeanutAllergy.com partnered with news site OpposingViews.com to poll its readers regarding the controversial question, "Should peanuts be banned in schools?"
The poll ran on OpposingViews.com from May 29 to May 31. A total of 884 people responded: 23.4% responded, "Yes," and 76.6%, responded, "No." The poll has a plus or minus rate of 3.43%.
Peanut allergy has become a hot-button issue in recent years. According to the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention, the number of those under 18 with food allergies jumped 17% from 1997-2007. Furthermore, according to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, the incidence of peanut allergy, the most prevalent food allergy, doubled from 1997-2002.
These statistics have raised awareness and made food allergies a popular news topic. The subject rose to prominence once again in May as a peanut-allergic high school cheerleader in Utah was smeared with peanut butter in a hazing ritual. What distinguishes this incident from routine teenage mischief is the fact that the allergic reaction to peanuts can be fatal.
Peanut allergy can produce a severe histamine reaction called "anaphylaxis" that can cause
suffocation; the reaction can only be stopped with an injection of epinephrine. The potential
severity of this reaction has led to widely publicized peanut bans in some schools and airlines.
These bans are controversial because they deny access to an extremely popular—especially among children—and nutritious food. While peanut allergy incidence is growing, it still affects a small percentage of the population. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) reports that less than one percent of the U.S. Population suffers from peanut allergy and that peanut allergy causes 100-125 deaths per year.
Though these numbers are not insignificant, for many parents of the nation's 53 million school children they do not justify the prohibition of packing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in their child's lunch.
The PeanutAllergy.com Forums reveal the extreme disparity of views. Some parents resort to homeschooling and specially trained dogs. Forum member Kristen reports, "This year the school is refusing home based services and we were working with them to get him in school. His peanut sniffing dog will be ready for him at the end of March."
This stand in stark contrast to the views of Taureaulee who says, "Let the parents bend over
backwards if they want to isolate their child, and let the other kids live freely. Why is the rest
of society bending over backwards for these people who don't want to educate their allergic
While the poll revealed a significant tilt toward rejecting a ban, there is support to be found on both sides of the peanut debate. On the pro-ban side, eliminating nuts from school campuses would reduce, although not eliminate, allergy incidents. Fatal anaphylaxis occurs most often outside the home when schools and restaurants are unprepared and have done nothing to reduce the possibility of exposure. A ban also alleviates the social stigma of being required to sit away from classmates when they are eating.
Those opposing the ban often cite the cost benefits of an inexpensive, nutritious and widely
loved peanut butter sandwich. There are also costs to schools who have to implement special programs and designated eating area. Some also believe that banning a widely used food source is a civil liberties issue.