Parents Who Lie About Their Kid’s Food Allergies Are Making It Worse For The Rest Of Us

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I have a son with food allergies, seasonal allergies, eczema, and asthma, and I’m not happy about it. As we went down the winding road of allergy testing and multiple specialist visits for my two-year-old, I began talking with other parents about it. I soon realized that I was definitely not alone in dealing with my allergy-prone kid.

While that is a comforting thought, it also sucks for all of us parents. On top of that, there are plenty of parents who err in the opposite direction and often lie about their kids having allergies—because they are vegetarian or vegan, picky eaters, or flat-out refuse certain food groups.

Let’s make something clear: Parents who lie about their children’s food allergies are doing a disservice to the rest of us. This is precisely why so many people are skeptical about the allergy epidemic among children today. But research proves otherwise.

A 2011 study published in the journal Pediatrics tells us that food allergies among children are more common and more severe than ever before:

The survey of nearly 40,000 U.S. parents found that nearly eight percent of children under the age of 18, about six million of them, have a food allergy. Researchers also concluded that nearly 40 percent of those reactions are severe, and nearly one-third have sensitivities to more than one food.

In the recent observation of Food Allergy Awareness Week, more intriguing statistics were brought to light:

15 million people in the United States have food allergies while one in every 13 children is affected. That is roughly 2 kids in every school classroom. Food allergies are not a fad, a choice nor an over-reaction to be taken lightly. Just because kids didn’t routinely have them way back when our parents were kids doesn’t make them any less real or serious today. Food allergies are on the rise more than ever before, in fact there was an 18% increase in food allergy from 1997-2007.

I’ll reiterate what I already said: It’s comforting to know that I am not alone as an allergy parent, but it also sucks that so many kids and families have to deal with this potentially life-threatening issue. I am fortunate in that my two-year-old only has confirmed skin-related allergies to peanut and egg; basically, after extensive allergy testing, we were told that he could avoid those foods to reduce eczema flare-ups. We’ve also temporarily changed his diet to a more “clean eating” approach that has helped clear his skin and manage his asthma, with the help of asthma medication.

But what is really going on here? Why are kids more allergic than ever before, if parents aren’t making it up for their convenience? Many experts point to something called the “hygiene hypothesis.” What this essentially means is that our environments are cleaner than ever before. Young children don’t have the chance to develop their immune systems with stimulation from friendly and unfriendly bacteria.

If you’ve ever seen a mother slather hand sanitizer all over her baby and her belongings, you know what I’m talking about. When kids don’t have the chance to develop their immunity, their immune system overreacts to any allergens they encounter. Some of these reactions may occur when eating certain foods and can be increasingly dangerous.

When you add to this the “Standard American Diet,” you have the perfect storm on your hands. You know it, and I know it: We are eating more crap than ever before. High-sugar, processed foods, along with food additives and pesticides, change the beneficial gut flora found in the digestive tract. This is one more factor that can increase the risk of asthma and decrease immunity.

There are several other issues to consider that may contribute to food allergies, like chemical cleaners, environmental triggers, food avoidance at an early age, and genetics—but the “big two” I mentioned above pack a powerful punch.

Parents of children with food allergies, what are we to do? It’s your best bet to work with your allergist and determine a helpful, safe diet for your child that can be used to rehabilitate immunity and overall health. If your child has life-threatening food allergies, raising awareness is key. Work with friends, family members, and teachers to eliminate any potential triggers your child may encounter.

Many times, food allergy advocacy is met with resistance because of parents who don’t take the issue seriously. But research doesn’t lie—allergies among children are on the rise. Allergy parents, I believe you. I know you aren’t making it up.

(Image: sveta aryev/Shutterstock)

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    • Rachel Sea

      C-sections have something to do with it too. Multiple studies have shown that when babies aren’t born vaginally, they aren’t colonized with the bacteria that sets them up for optimum health. In the future, I expect c-section babies will immediately be “seeded” with bacteria harvested from the mother.

      • Bethany Ramos

        Yes, I have read quite a bit about this. Great point.

      • Valerie

        Huh, I’ve never heard that before! That is very interesting!

      • Rachel Sea

        Gross as it sounds, science is finding that the healthiest thing for a neonate is to be in contact with her mother’s unwashed, unsterilized genitals, stomach and breasts because in the last weeks of pregnancy bacteria migrate to those places specifically to colonize the baby so that she is ready to digest milk, and fend off harmful bacteria – kind of the same principle as when you seed for a dense lawn so there is no room for weeds.

        We’re learning more and more about microbiomes and how much they mean to overall health, and we’re just beginning to understand some of the ways we bollocks ourselves by feeding or starving different bacterial strains. It’s pretty fascinating stuff with really enormous implications about the consequences of birth practices, sanitation practices, medication practices, and diets. I expect nutritionists to be in much greater demand once the studies about gut bacteria that have come out in the last half dozen years filter their way into policy, and the biotic supplement industry is going to boom.

      • quinn

        Very interesting stuff, I have never read about that but I will have to. Thanks for sharing!

      • willow reed

        it’s not really gross at all, it is very interesting if you ask me :D i know that plants respond to their own microbiomes in the soil, so it is just normal that would apply to all living things. i wonder if the high incidences of cancer in this country could be attributed in part to the lack of eating ‘normal’ foods (v. the highly processed stuff).

      • Mollie

        This is an interesting thought. Although I have 3 children all born via C-section. None of them have any allergies of any kind or any other health issues.

      • Rachel Sea

        Stats don’t apply to individuals. Your kids might never have any health problems related to their microbiome, they are just part of a pool of kids who, as a group, share an increased risk.

      • cabinfever

        This is also anecdotal, but my food-allergic daughter was born in an awkward position, so not only did she pass through the birth canal, she spent quite a bit of time there. There’s just no way that she missed all of the wonderful bacteria.

        Babies born by c-section may be at increased risk, but babies delivered vaginally are also at risk, so I don’t see how there’s anything remotely causative there?

      • Rachel Sea

        Because statistics do not apply to individuals, and risks don’t exist independent of each other. Better gut bacteria won’t eliminate allergies, but it would reduce one of the many risk factors for developing allergies, and therefore reduce the population of allergy sufferers.

        It won’t do anything for genetics, or prenatal diet, or breastfeeding, or exposure, or any of the other things that increase or decrease a person’s risk – including what are probably many factors that we don’t yet know exist.

      • willow reed

        and it seems to have something to do with the prolific desire to ditch the kids into the daycare situations so mummy can work. my kids don’t have allergies, but we have a lot of pets. i clean but i am not a clean freak. i stayed home with them and we did a lot of outdoors things, which I think helped a lot. i think that the speed of life these days is not good for the kids. if you can stay home with yours do it. make it work. take your kids out to the park every day if you don’t have a place at home to play outside. let them play in the dirt. let them do things. technology is not the answer, we need to have our families do “organic” life once again by being outside and doing things that humans have been doing for thousands of years. geez.. really. and put that damn hand sanitizer down already, you are causing only the strong bacteria to live. the ones that stuff won’t kill. yep you. so be pleased, you hand sanitizer users, that you are on the edge of the next pandemic, which you have helped to cause.

      • willow reed

        and it seems to have something to do with the prolific desire to ditch the kids into the daycare situations so mummy can work. my kids don’t have allergies, but we have a lot of pets. i clean but i am not a clean freak. i stayed home with them and we did a lot of outdoors things, which I think helped a lot. i think that the speed of life these days is not good for the kids. if you can stay home with yours do it. make it work. take your kids out to the park every day if you don’t have a place at home to play outside. let them play in the dirt. let them do things. technology is not the answer, we need to have our families do “organic” life once again by being outside and doing things that humans have been doing for thousands of years. geez.. really. and put that damn hand sanitizer down already, you are causing only the strong bacteria to live. the ones that stuff won’t kill. yep you. so be pleased, you hand sanitizer users, that you are on the edge of the next pandemic, which you have helped to cause.

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    • personal

      My daughter has neurodermatitis and some other allergies. Her little body is often mostly covered with bright red rashes. It’s awful.
      She was in fact born via C-section. She’s an adventurous eater but doesn’t eat much of anything and is thin. She prefers salad to meat and potatoes and would live off raw fruits and vegetables if we would let her.
      At the moment, I’m having a hell of a time finding a sunscreen she can tolerate. :(

      • gothicgaelicgirl

        I suffer from psoriasis and there’s a great cream called Mushatt’s Number 9.

        It’s hard to find but it’s brilliant on skin conditions.

        I’m not sure if they do a sunscreen, but it’s worth a look?

        http://www.mushatts.com/

    • Tauren Stiles

      We are a food allergy family. I often wonder about GMOs. My son is allergic to Soy and most soy is genetically modified.

      • cabinfever

        Despite its genetic modifications, the vast majority of people have no problem with soy. Our child is allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, so has an over-reactive immune system, but tolerates soy just fine.

      • Tauren Stiles

        Seriously? Soy is one of the most allergic foods out there including peanuts, dairy & eggs. Just because your allergic child can tolerate soy doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously as an allergen. We’ve been to the emergency room many times with serious complications. As an allergy mom yourself I’m surprised you would think to diminish an allergen just because your child can tolerate it. Sheesh!

      • cabinfever

        I can see how you might read my post as “we don’t have a problem with soy, so soy’s not a problem”. But why would I say that? I understand food allergies. My comment was meant to be about GM.

        My feeling is that if GM were the problem (or mold on peanuts, to give another, similar theory), given how pervasive these foods are, allergies and anaphylaxis would be pandemic.

        I’m hoping that someday soon, they’ll be using GM to remove whatever part of the food makes our kids react this way. I could get behind that.

      • Melody

        My son has a plethora of food allergies, including corn and soy, which are heavily modified and in practically everything processed. It’s awful trying to avoid them, so we make everything from scratch. Have you seen the Robyn O’Brien TED talk on GMO’s and food allergies? It’s really good, and it explains alot. Good luck with your allergies!

    • Valerie

      Great post, Beth! You handle your son’s food allergy very well. I am so impressed by the lengths you go!

      • Bethany Ramos

        Thanks!!

    • Iwill Findu

      So what your saying is because I let my daughter eat dirt from the garden she should be good in the allergies department? Cool no mom guilt about letting her eat fist fulls of dirt well I weed the garden then.

      • SunnyD847

        Ha! I always said my poor house cleaning wasn’t due to laziness but instead was proof of my commitment to bolstering my kids’ immune systems. I’m such a good mom!

      • willow reed

        my dad grew up during the nazi occupation in france. he says that because they had pretty dirty places to live (trying to out run the germans from house to house, town to town) that is the reason that he doesn’t get sick often, if at all. i believe him. he never has gotten sick much at all! on the other hand, my husband’s mother is a clean freak and, he is sick all the time, and allergic to a lot of things. i think there is something to it. remember, the polio epidemic came about because we are ‘too clean.’ it’s true…be NOT a neat/clean freak and your life will be far far better. just say no to cleaning. we don’t need our men to be home sick. god no!

    • RayneofCastamere

      That and children aren’t dying of their allergies before they’re old enough for school. Do some people just find it so hard to send non-food treats like stickers to school on their kids’ birthdays? Because that’s where I’ve seen most of the complaints about allergies.

      • SunnyD847

        Yeah, when people say “in my day kids never had allergies” I have to wonder how many babies died of undiagnosed allergies “back in the day.”

    • robbie

      Couldn’t agree more!

    • Mo Cooper

      Thank you for pointing out the ABSURDITY of the article posted by faux journalist Miriam Porter last month. I don’t think I’ve ever read such a poorly thought out, insensitive piece (and for the record, I’m a vegetarian and have eaten vegan in the past but I completely disagree with the cowardice she is trying to teach her clearly thoughtful and sensitive son).

      As a server, I feel for you. I do my best to take every allergy seriously, but when people are telling you they have a “pork allergy” (yes, just pork) or a dairy allergy and proceed to put cream in their coffee…good God it is infuriating. A huge part of my job is to try to figure out if people’s allergies are real or not. If someone has a dairy ALLERGY (usually to casein), they could go into anaphylactic shock and die. The chefs need to COMPLETELY sanitize their station, prep new ingredients, etc, which takes a very long time. For even a severe lactose INTOLERANT customer, a dish that contains no dairy ingredients, but was cooked in prepped in the same area is entirely sufficient.

      I have reached the point where I literally tell people the process they chefs go through and inform them that their food will take much longer. People with real allergies are almost always aware of this, ok with it, and grateful that the chefs will go out of their way. People with faux allergies and sensitivities always change their mind about having an allergy and would rather get their food quickly.

      I hope you continue to be vocal about your son and help picky eaters and people with dietary preferences understand that they are putting people’s lives at risk.