Monday, August 13, 2007

Food Allergies Mean Back-to-School Jitters for Millions

The incidence of food allergy hasskyrocketed, doubling in the last 10 years, and scientists aren't sure whyMore than 12 million Americans - one in 25 - are caught up in thislife-altering epidemic. Among them are 2.2 million school-age children. For them, as well as fortheir parents, back-to-school is an especially anxious time.

That's because food allergy is not the harmless, whimsical condition somepeople still seem to think it is. "Food allergy is serious, and it's life-threatening," says AnneMuñoz-Furlong, founder and CEO of the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network(FAAN). "Just one bite of the wrong food can bring on anaphylaxis - a severeallergic reaction that can cause death. Even trace amounts can be enough tocause problems - sometimes just through skin contact, or from inhalationwhen food is being cooked."

Food allergy is the leading cause of anaphylaxis outside the hospitalsetting in the U.S. and results in 150-200 deaths and more than 30,000emergency room visits each year. There is no known cure; strict avoidance isthe only way to prevent a reaction.

But avoidance can be hard in schools, where food allergens are everywhere: in the cafeteria, on the playground, in the classroom. Not just in meals and snacks, but in art projects, craft activities, even math lessons.

Yet there is no uniform food-allergy policy to guide our nation's schools-some of which are well-prepared to deal with food allergy, while others aren't. "The bottom line is that parents can't be sure that a school isequipped to protect their child," says Muñoz-Furlong.That may change as a result of legislation recently introduced in Congress.

The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Management Act (HR.2063/S.1232) would, ifpassed, call on the federal government to establish voluntary nationalguidelines for managing students with food allergies ( "What's needed is a food-allergy blueprint for schools to follow, and thiswould provide it," said Muñoz-Furlong. "Children with food allergy, and their parents, have to always be on guard,to prevent a reaction. It's not easy, but they can do it with thecooperation, and the understanding, of everyone around them."

ABOUT FAAN - Founded in 1991, the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) is the worldleader in information about food allergy, a potentially fatal condition thatafflicts approximately 12 million Americans, or one out of every 25, and israpidly increasing in prevalence. A nonprofit organization based in Fairfax,Va., FAAN has 30,000 members in the U.S., Canada, and 62 other countries. Itis dedicated to increasing public awareness of food allergy and itsconsequences, to educating people about the condition, to advocating onbehalf of all those affected by it, and to advancing research into itscauses, prevalence, cure, and prevention. FAAN provides information andeducational resources about food allergy to patients, their families,schools, health professionals, pharmaceutical companies, the food industry,and government officials. The FAAN Medical Advisory Board, which reviews allof the organization's educational materials, is comprised of 14 of theleaders in food allergy science and medicine in the U.S. and Canada. In addition to its printed materials, FAAN also sponsors such awarenessprograms as Food Allergy Awareness Week, the Mariel C. Furlong Awards forMaking a Difference, food allergy conferences, and fundraising walks. For more information, visit FAAN on the Web at

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