Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

Food Allergies on the Big Screen February 12, 2018

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Sony Pictures and the creators of the upcoming movie “Peter Rabbit” are facing a backlash from parents across the globe after it was revealed that the rabbits use a gardener’s food allergy to attack and impair him.

 

Food allergies are among several disabilities that are used as cheap gags in movies and on TV.  Sometimes, such as in the movie “Hitch” and on the TV show “Modern Family,” they garner laughs because the symptoms of anaphylaxis are so severe and fast-acting that they take the audience by surprise.  Sometimes they are used to show weakness or to emphasize low social status, like nerdiness.  In a recent Party City ad slated to run during this year’s Super Bowl, having a food allergy was deemed “gross” to convey it as annoying.

 

What makes the “Peter Rabbit” use of food allergies particularly distasteful is that 2017 was speckled with stories of food allergy bullying across the world; including the arrest of two young teenagers who knowingly used a peer’s food allergy against her sending her into anaphylaxis and at least one death – that of a 13 year old at the hands of his classmates who had snuck cheese into his sandwich at lunch.

 

The exclamation point on the “Peter Rabbit” case is that the rabbits reportedly state that food allergies are “made up for attention.”  Unfortunately, this plays on some people’s already-formed perception of food allergies and undercuts how serious they truly are.

 

The use of food allergies to prompt laughter reinforces stereotypes, spreads misinformation and strengthens the idea that food allergies are a choice meant for self-importance or as an inconvenience to others.  The use of food allergies in children’s media prays on the worst fears of children with food allergies and their families.  [1 in 13 kids in the United States have food allergies – that’s nearly 20 kids – and about 80 family members – in every screening of “Peter Rabbit” who live with the anxieties of the very severe consequences that just a small crumb of an allergen can trigger.]  These children are watching their nightmare come to life on the big screen.

 

The food allergy community is accustomed to hearing food allergies become the butt of a joke. Jokes, as distasteful as they are to some, may have their place in adult-oriented films and television shows (as is the case with the movie “Hitch” and “Horrible Bosses”).  But when it’s placed in children’s programming, it becomes unacceptable.  Exposure to such imagery, dialogue and attitudes during such a formative time in their lives can affect young audiences with food allergies (and influence those without) both psychologically and socially.  It can scare and scar those with food allergies.  And, showing it “even in a cartoonish, slapstick way” (as Sony describes it in their apology) teaches others that food allergies are not to be taken seriously.  By watching “Peter Rabbit,” kids are learning that using someone’s food allergy against them is both humorous and without consequence.  Meanwhile, children with food allergies are watching – horrified – while the audience jovially cheers the rabbits on. It’s amazing that storylines, such as this one, pass through vast numbers of people for approval without being questioned for their impact on children.

 

Thankfully, Sony has issued an apology recognizing the insensitivity of the “Peter Rabbit” material.  Let’s hope that other production companies learn from this lesson.  Apologizing after the fact is the easiest thing in the world.  How can we ensure that this doesn’t happen in the first place?

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Food Allergy Bullying: Not Just a School Problem January 22, 2018

Food Allergy Bullying stats

Last year, a 13 year old with a dairy allergy died after someone allegedly slipped cheese into his sandwich at lunch.  He was rushed to the hospital and placed in intensive care where he remained until he suffered cardiac arrest.

 

80% of parents reported that their children with food allergies have been teased, excluded or harassed by their school mates as well as adults.  In a 2010 study conducted by researchers at Mount Sinai Medical Center, most kids felt their bullying had been due to their food allergies alone.  Others reported that issues related to their food allergies (such as carrying medication, being set apart at lunch and receiving what appeared to be “special treatment”) were also factors in being taunted or harassed.

 

The psychological damages associated with bullying are heartbreaking and can last into adulthood: depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-harming behavior, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and suicidal thoughts.  Couple these dark emotions and behaviors with the heightened state of anxiety and concerns over safety that those with food allergies already experience as well as the very REAL and severe dangers of anaphylaxis and we’re facing a crisis that needs to be addressed immediately.

 

Profile of a bully:

According to psychologists, bullies share a few common traits:

  1. Typically bullies act for several reasons including power and perceived popularity;
  2. Their actions are deliberate, repeated and often involve a verbal component; and
  3. Because they tend to lack prosocial skills, they see themselves and their actions positively.  In essence, bullies don’t self-identify as bullies.

 

We’re all familiar with stories of generalized bullying.  But what makes food allergy bullying different?  A few things:

  1.  Bullies who use food to target those with food allergies may not understand the very serious consequences their actions will have;
  2. Teens who speak about being harassed often report that it’s not just their peers doing the bullying.  Parents and teachers who make it clear that those with food allergies are an inconvenience are sending a message that kids are receiving and taking personally;
  3. The line between a classmate jokingly waving a peanut at a child with food allergies without understanding the gravity and a bully who uses an allergen to threaten or harm a peer may seem clear.  But the psychological implications and possibility of rapid and dangerous health outcomes of both situations can result in the victim feeling unsafe and more susceptible to harassment in the future.

 

Although many cases of bullying occur at school because of the close proximity of peers, bullying isn’t a problem that can – or should – be resolved entirely by schools themselves.  Bullying is a communal problem and it’s one we all must work to prevent.

 

What can we do about food allergy bullying?

 

It all begins with education.

  • Students need to be taught about food allergies formally.  With two food allergic kids in every classroom, all students are exposed to this epidemic but few are equipped to truly understand it.  Food allergies are mentioned in school but not rarely formally taught.  For over a decade, I have taught preschool through 7th grade students lessons about food allergies; a lesson that includes a heavy dose of empathy which results in a stronger sense of fellowship.  Empathy is one the key skills psychologists recommend schools and parents teach their children to thwart bullying and build community.
  • But it’s not just the children who need a lesson in food allergies.  So do adults.  I recently gave a seminar to educators to raise their awareness of food allergies and help them protect their allergic students emotionally, socially, physically, and academically.  Identifying food allergic reactions and understanding protocols, preventing cross-contamination in the classroom, lessons of inclusion and empathy, and the psychosocial issues (like anxiety and stress) that both food allergic students and their parents face have been immensely helpful to teachers who are trying to cater to the whole child. And they have seen these seminars reap great rewards in their schools.
  • Parents of non-allergic children need to learn about food allergies to keep play dates safe and deepen their empathetic muscle so that they can impart those lessons to their own children.  Occasionally (and not infrequently), we hear stories of parents who feel their children are entitled to bring whatever food they want into school regardless of the dangers they might pose on another child.  These parents are missing the greater message – which is that we are a community; communities protect each other and THAT is what makes us all stronger.  Not peanut butter sandwiches or cheese puffs.

 

At home, parents of food allergic children need to emphasize and practice lessons in self-advocacy and problem-solving. Kids with food allergies face their fear of reactions several times, every single day. Empowering them to speak up and stand firm to protect themselves and others is an invaluable skill – for them and for life.

 

Keep communication open between you and your child.  Offer stories about when you were their age and include difficulties you may have faced and ways you overcome challenges.  Get your children involved in figuring out how you should have handled your childhood issues.  This reassures kids in many ways: First, it reminds them that they are not alone in their experiences.  Second, it shows them, by example, different perspectives on common issues.  And, it helps them self-identify as problem-solvers, instilling in them the confidence and perseverance they need to deal with sometimes complex obstacles.

 

Signs of Bullying:

Half of kids who have been bullied don’t talk about it with their parents or other trusted adult.  Parents and teachers: please take note if you see these classic signs of food allergy bullying occurring to your child/student.

  • food allergy reactions happening at school
  • excuses to stay home
  • physical signs (on the body, books, backpack, etc)
  • falling grades/loss of interest at school
  • behavioral/emotional changes (sadness, outbursts, excessive worry)

 

Bullying already in progress?

If you’re already dealing with a bully issue, there are a few extra things you may wish to do:

  1.  Stay calm and collected.  Reassure your child that you will help resolve this conflict.  Approach the school first if that’s where the incidents are occurring.
  2. Practice language they can use to deal with bullies without retaliation (which could escalate things).  Teach them to say, “STOP” and, ideally walk away.
  3. Identify trusted adults that your child can turn to if they have a problem at school (a teacher, a coach, administrator, the school nurse, etc).  In addition to you, are there other adults in your child’s life that could help?  It takes a village, now’s a great time to rely on that village.
  4. Children with food allergies are often protected legally under Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, Title II and the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  The argument is that harassment and bullying prevents equal access to benefits that education provides.  Section 504 covering disability harassment applies to children from elementary school through college and university.

 

 

SCHOOLS:

There are a number of ways schools can reduce the possibility of dangerous food allergy bullying.  Please contact me directly to discuss programs that work for each stage of education: erin@allergystrong.com

 

No Appetite for Bullying

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Four food allergy non-profits led by kaléo Pharma have partnered to campaign against Food Allergy Bullying.  Please visit No Appetite for Bullying for further information and to stay informed of their upcoming programming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advocacy: Sesame Seed Labeling September 7, 2017

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Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Last week, I teamed up with Allergy & Asthma Network, a leading non-profit, to begin a discussion about adding sesame seeds to ingredient labels.  We met with committees on Capitol Hill who were receptive to our argument.  It’s a first step in a potentially long process – but a step in the right direction!

 

Sesame: the 9th Food Allergen? explains the rise in sesame allergy and the difficulty faced by those who are allergic.  When the Director of the Division of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Dr. Robert Wood spoke to WebMD in 2012, he believed sesame seed allergy was so prevalent that it had likely climbed to the 6th or 7th most common allergen in the U.S.

 

Without required labeling, sesame seeds can be masked under many different names.  They appear in both food as well as hygiene and beauty products.  There is a relationship between tree nut allergies and sesame seed allergy – those allergic to one are three times as likely to be allergic to the other.  But unlike nut allergies, sesame oil can cause potentially severe reactions for those who are allergic.

 

Currently, only the “Top 8” allergens are required to be explicitly labeled in the United States.  Those allergens are:

Dairy

Eggs

Soy

Fish

Shellfish

Peanuts

Tree Nuts

Wheat

Many other industrialized nations already label for sesame seeds including Canada, the European Union, Australia, and Israel.

 

I will keep you posted on new developments as we continue to speak to decision-makers on this and other key allergen issues.

 

Food Allergy Help for Hurricane Harvey Families August 30, 2017

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Families just like ours need help.  They find themselves in the path of Hurricane Harvey and many are without resources.  Not only are many thousands of people evacuated from their homes, but those who remain will likely not have access to supermarkets or deliveries as roads and commercial buildings will be effected for days or weeks.

 

The folks at the San Antonio Food Allergy Support Team posted an update today about how to donate food allergy-friendly food to those in southeast Texas.  Monetary donations are the best way to make an immediate impact.  And, food allergy-friendly donations, particularly those that make feeding children easier, are greatly appreciated.

 

Here is Allergy Shmallergy’s link to Emergency Food Allergy Donations on Amazon.  I will continue to update this list throughout the upcoming days.  This is just to get us all started and is, by no means, an exhaustive list of needs.  Feel free to send your families’ favorite allergy-friendly foods, but remember that it should be shelf-stable and not require refrigeration.

Emergency Food Allergy Donations
Link: http://a.co/129iX7e

 

Please read below for details.  And, remember: there are MANY excellent organizations that need assistance now.

 

Thank you in advance: Your help is appreciated beyond words!

 


From the San Antonio Food Allergy Support Team:

[Post updated Wed. 8/30 at NOON CST]

Texas was hit very hard by Hurricane Harvey.

Many of the people who have been evacuated from the Corpus Christi area are already here in San Antonio. We have some evacuees from Houston, but are expecting thousands more.

If you’d like to help food allergy families, here’s how…

The San Antonio Food Bank is coordinating food efforts to help ALL of Texas hurricane victims right now. San Antonio is clear and sunny and having no issues with roads closures or mail delays (unlike Houston).

San Antonio Food Bank
FOOD ALLERGY FRIENDLY
5200 Enrique M. Barrera Pkwy
San Antonio, TX 78227-2209

(210) 337-3663
Info@safoodbank.org
Mon-Fri 8am-5pm
https://safoodbank.org/

The information on the “Hurricane Harvey Emergency Response” pops up on their main page…scroll down to see all options.

•Folks can donate “MONETARY DONATIONS” and put in the NOTES section (at the bottom) that they want their donation to go to “FOOD ALLERGY FRIENDLY FOODS” – this may make the most immediate impact.

•Food allergy companies or donors can send “MATERIAL DONATIONS” food allergy products directly to the San Antonio Food Bank (address above) and clearly mark them as FOOD ALLERGY FRIENDLY – If possible, include a clear message that it’s food allergy friendly on the outside of the box, in the second address line, and on the inside of the box.

•Shipments direct from AMAZON: If you are sending allergy-friendly items directly from Amazon.com, you can enter “FOOD ALLERGY FRIENDLY ” in the “Address line 2” field for the address and include it in a “gift message” which would be inside the box, to help with package sorting.

*San Antonio Residents – You can donate food allergy friendly items to the SA Food Bank or the City Council Offices listed. Please clearly mark them as “FOOD ALLERGY FRIENDLY” inside and outside and if possible pack them in a sturdy box. You can sign up to volunteer at the SA Food Bank (you must sign up ahead of time).

FYI FARE and KFA/AAFA have blog posts with additional details. Enjoy Life and Sunbutter companies are already planning to send donations. AAFA is working with someone from the EoE community. If you happen to have a personal corporate connection looking to donate, please have them contact Chad Chittenden, Director of Food Industry Partnerships at cchittenden@safoodbank.org (210) 431-8313, but I’m sure he’s swamped and other organizations are already reaching out to companies.

–Susan & Selena — San Antonio Food Allergy Support Team (volunteer leaders & FA moms)

P.S. There are many other organizations that need general help (including the Red Cross and Blood Bank). Thanks to any of you who are helping in whatever way works for you. 

 

 

Best Allergy Blogs of 2017 May 8, 2017

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Healthline compiles a list of each year’s best allergy blogs each of whom serves as a valuable resource to its readers.

 

Allergy Shmallergy is once again thrilled to be on this list and amongst such fantastic company.  I’m an avid reader of many of my co-honorees!

 

Thank you to those at Healthline for being an excellent resource to us all.  And congrats to all those on the list!

 

Click here to check out all the wonderful and motivated writers, advocates and innovators who are trying to make life better and easier for those with food allergies.

 

 

MLK Day: Inclusion and Action January 13, 2017

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One week ago, I found myself chaperoning a large group of 6th graders on a field trip to the National Cathedral.  You could tell right away we had a great guide.  She was 84 years old and wore a headset microphone that was clearly turned off but still commanded the kids total attention.  A former educator, she wasn’t just a teacher (and a student) of history.  She was part of it.  She lived it.  She was woven into story after story about the cathedral and its visitors.  As our guide led us to the pulpit where Martin Luther King, Jr gave his last sermon, she described the mood of the sermon as solemn – almost as if he knew he may not make it. And, she would know.  She sat and listened only a few feet from the man himself.

 

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As we approach Martin Luther King Jr. Day, there are two things that stand out on my mind.  Two things that are universally important – but especially critical to food allergy families whose worlds are fraught with uncertainty.

 

The first is INCLUSION.  The effort of inclusion is an act of kindness and humanity.  Everyone wants to be welcomed by their peers, their parents, the people around them. Inclusion is an act of thoughtfulness.  So much of coming together involves food:  in times of happiness and celebration, sadness and consolation.  Food is a hallmark of society, tradition and culture.  When we don’t make accommodations to include a member of our group, we’re sending a message that they are not a valued member of our society.

 

I know I’m preaching to the choir here.  As food allergy parents and those with food allergies ourselves, I know you understand.  It nearly brings me to tears of appreciation when someone goes the extra mile to include my son – even in the smallest way.   It’s not lost on him either.  He feels seen, validated.

 

Efforts of inclusion, of focusing on ways to connect with each other, is more important today than it’s ever been.

 

The other sentiment that keeps circling around my brain is ACTION.  If we want to improve life for us and our kids, we need to live actively.  The path to a better, more understanding community is involvement.  While we wait for extended family, friends, peers, teachers, and school administrators to understand and support the needs of our particular community, let’s connect with one another and actively help each other out.  When you’re sending in a birthday snack, call the other food allergy parent in the classroom and find out if your snack is safe for their child.  Decorate the peanut-free table and make it THE place to sit in the cafeteria.  Talk to your child about what to do if they see a friend having a food allergy reaction.  Help educate a friend who recently received a food allergy diagnosis.  Check in with them and let them know you’re there to vent frustrations to and to celebrate victories with.

 

Martin Luther King Jr. once said,“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?'”  This is why we celebrate the memory and influence of Dr. King by engaging in service.  When my kids are involved in being charitable with their time and creative with their energy while helping others, they take ownership of and are active participants in their community.  Their world becomes less uncertain and more able to be shaped by their direct actions.  Let’s be inclusive of one another.  Let’s be kind and supportive of each other.  Maybe others will pay that kindness forward.  And, maybe, just maybe, that kindness will find its way back to you.

 

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Photo taken by Sharon & Nikki McCutcheon

 

 

 

Help Fund a Cure for Food Allergies January 10, 2017

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“Why can’t I just be like everyone else?”

If you have a child with food allergies, you’ve likely heard this heartbreaking sentiment from your kid.  We’ve all had to console this same child who just wants to put aside his/her food allergies and anxieties even if only for a single day.

Parents would go to any length for the sake of their kids.  Food allergy parents often do by preparing safe food, educating others, strategizing for school, holidays, play dates, and celebrations.

 

But how many of us have done 3,000 burpees for them?

 

That’s what fellow food allergy parent, Mike Monroe, plans to do on January 25th in order to raise money for ongoing research for a cure for food allergies.  Mike’s goal is to raise $50,000 to support cutting-edge research examining novel applications of cellular therapy for the millions of kids with food allergies being explored at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

 

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marines_burpee by U.S. Embassy Tokyo via Flickr

 

What’s a burpee, you might ask?  It’s a combination of push-up/plank, squat and jump performed in combination.  Try one right now!  Do another.  I think you’ll agree: it’s NOT easy!  Mike plans to complete 3,000 of these in under 12 hours.

What can you do to support Mike?

 

1.  Watch this video about Mike’s incredible motivation – his son, Miles:

 

 

2.  Consider a donation:  Every little bit helps get us all closer to a cure for food allergies.

3K Burpee Challenge for Food Allergies

3.  Share this post!  Please share this with your family and friends, share via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media channels.  Let’s support Mike and researchers to help our own kids and the millions who face life threatening food allergies every day!

 

 

Donate:

http://childrensnational.donordrive.com/campaign/BurpeeProject

Blog:

http://www.3kburpeechallenge.com/

Facebook Page:

https://www.facebook.com/3KBurpeeChallenge/

YouTube Video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSVGTkFtnyk&feature=youtu.be