Have We Gone Nuts Over Peanut Allergies?

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Peanut butter and banana sandwiches, Elvis Presley's favorite snack, wouldn't be on the menu at "peanut aware" Allen schools. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

    Concerns about peanut allergies have sparked widespread measures to protect people, but not everyone is convinced the policies are necessary.

    Take Vaughan Elementary, one of five Allen schools that are "peanut aware."

    Have We Gone Nuts Over Peanut Allergies?

    [DFW] Have We Gone Nuts Over Peanut Allergies?
    Concerns about peanut allergies have sparked widespread measures to protect people, but not everyone is convinced the policies are necessary. (Published Friday, Mar 20, 2009)

    Peanuts and peanut oil are forbidden in the food that is prepared at the school, and packaged food is checked to see if peanuts were never in contact with it.

    "We have a couple of children here who are severely allergic to peanuts, in the sense that even if it was in the air they could have a severe allergic reaction," said Dorothy Thompson, a dietician at Allen Independent School District.

    Students such as 15-year-old Sean Hightower, of Richland Hills, said he appreciates measures like those at Allen's peanut-aware schools.

    "It's hard to breathe, and I just want to fall asleep once I'm exposed to them," he said.
     
    But several publications have recently wondered if Americans have gone nuts over allergies, questioning if the concern is unfounded hysteria.

    According the articles, a Massachusetts school bus was recently stopped and evacuated because a peanut was found onboard.

    "Absolutely, that is definitely overboard," said Dr. Rebecca Gruchalla, of University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

    But she also said allergies are real.

    "We need to educate the public, we need to educate the schools, the nurses, people in restaurants," Gruchalla said.

    Hightower's family says peanuts can kill the teenager.

    "Children, adults, teenagers, specifically, have died from this, so how can anybody call that a joke?" his father Perry Hightower said.

    Some people advocate more regulations, especially in restaurants. Sean Hightower said he has trouble getting answers when eating out.

    "I ask and make sure," he said. "Like fried foods, I always ask, because there's no telling if they're fried in peanut oil or not."

    Gruchalla said allergies are also on the rise.

    "A lot more allergies, not only peanut allergies but other ones, are popping up as well, so it's becoming more of a prevalent thing in the food service department," she said.