“Food Fear”

Recently I read this article about how peanut allergy is caused by food fear. Yes you read that right. It was an article published in a legitimate internet venue trying to say that science had definitively proven that allergies were ‘all in peoples heads’.

I read the actual study and it is relatively small using data from less than a thousand parents, and relying entirely on self reporting by parents about what their children ate. Any study that relies on reported data is flawed due to the fact that people rarely remember accurately. The study also used data that I do not think should have been included. 11% participants listed as peanut-avoidant had reported eating “some” peanuts. I find it hard to see how someone can have eaten peanuts and still fit in the “not consuming peanut” category. Even adjusting for the contaminated data wouldn’t be enough. The article suggests that the lead author has a strong opinion about the subject of food allergy which means that any data that is collected can’t be taken at face value and must be verified by less prejudiced researchers.

This study should be taken as an indication that more research needs to be done, not as hard fact, but this is not how the article treats the data at all. It seems to imply that this study really helps tell us something real about whats happening with food allergy when in fact it tells us little.

The article also talks about ‘food fear’ which is a sound bite if I have ever heard one. I don’t think people who have children with food allergies have food fear. Or live in a culture of food fear. They have a child who becomes sick from a food that they would genuinely like to protect them from. It is more difficult to protect children from a food than it is to protect them from a stranger. On allergy blogs parents complain that people in child care, whether it be in schools, day care, or just in private home care as nurses or babysitters are often unaware and highly resistant to the idea that food could hurt a child and will often deliberately expose allergic children to risk, believing that the parents are ‘overprotective’ or ‘abusive’. Even doctors and medical professionals have been seen ignoring warnings about children with multiple allergies in emergency situations. Which does not suggest a culture of ‘food fear’ at all, it suggests the very opposite.

People all over the world reject the idea that food can hurt them because it is terrifying to think otherwise. The news seems to feel that using this fear to sell papers is a good idea. I disagree. Allergy and food intolerance are a serious health concern and misinformation is not helpful or safe. Millions of Americans go to emergency rooms every day due to anaphylactic shock. Sometimes they die.  Something like 22% of school children who experience a food related anaphylactic reaction at school have never had such a reaction  before.  Death in cases like that is highly likely because schools are unprepared. Given that allergies are not ‘all in peoples heads’, it might be better if news didn’t report on these subjects at all until they can get their facts straight.

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