Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis, Nut Hysteria

As an adult with food allergies (certainly a very sympathetic adult but still one that is on the outside of the world of having a child with food allergies), I believe there is a grain of truth in this article by Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis, “This allergies hysteria is just nuts.”

We, as a culture, seem caught in a loop of increasing anxiety about keeping ourselves and our children safe from offending allergens. The question remains: how much safer are we once say peanuts are removed from a classroom or a restaurant or an airline?

From Livescience.com: "Measures to control nuts are instead making things worse in a cycle of over-reaction and increasing sensitization," Christakis writes. He calls the prohibitions part of a "mass psychogenic illness" (what used to be epidemic hysteria) "involving otherwise healthy people in a cascade of anxiety."

However, are we all engaging in or are caught up by mass hysteria? Eh, dunno about that.

Read the article. (Here's the NYTimes spin and FAAN's reply) What do you think?


Unknown said…
Dr. Christakis' statements concern me because while we always hear of extreme examples on any subject you can imagine--and I agree evacuating a bus for a solitary peanut is extreme--he paints what I believe is an inaccurate picture of food allergy management in schools.

I spend a fair amount of time communicating with other parents of food allergic children around the U.S. and Canada, and I don't hear about such extreme allergy management policies. In fact, more often than not, I hear about about the other extreme, where no effort at all is made to "manage" food allergies in school.

I think it would have been more prudent of Dr. Christakis to weed out extreme examples before making his pronouncement. It is unfortunate that he has made such a public and sweeping generalization on this subject. Reasonable accommodations are made in schools around the U.S. and are not indicative of "mass psychogenic illness".
Allergic Girl® said…
thank you jennifer for your thoughtful comment.
zebe912 said…
I think that being careful and reasonable is important, especially if you KNOW there is an allergic person in a particular environment.

This topic has always made me think about how we deal with germs in this country. Sure, we want to avoid bacteria that make us sick...but having antibacterial gel & soap & lotion, plus sprays and bleach wipes, etc. just create resistant bacteria when the products are over used.

Allergies are obviously a bit different, but I can't help but worry about something similar happening when we over mandate foods. Some people need to be extra careful. Some people need to be reasonably careful. Most of us just need to educate ourselves.
Greyhair said…
I completely agree with the previous comments.

I really think a lot of the hyperbole exists on the margins. Those with clear cut reactions to allergies are obviously not over-reacting when their throat closes at the hint of a peanut. On the other hand, allergies have so many symptoms, often very subtle symptoms, that it's easy for anyone/everyone to think they have an "allergy". Throw in food "sensitivities" and it becomes a very very hazy picture.

Further research in diagnostics is key imo. In my case, I only became aware of allergies resulting in subtle symptoms after a generally recognized as reliable and definitive test (Immunocap). The test identified moderate levels of allergy to multiple items .... a combination that would have takens years and diligence to figure out on my own. Once the multiples were identified and eliminated, voila' ... the symptoms went away.

Unfortunately, many of the other tests are not reliable leaving folks with false positives and their own devices to figure out problems. And as is human nature, many overshoot.
I read this article this morning and agree that there is some truth with this. As with anything, I think some people do take it too far. I know that sometimes when I see goldfish on the floor, I want to grab my son and run the other way (although I usually control that impulse). It's easy to get over protective when it's your child. As with everything, there needs to be prespective and common sense put in play.
Michelle said…
This article gets at recent trends beyond "nut awareness" in schools. Christakis also points out that his children cannot bring food to school if it doesn't have detailed ingredient labels. This same rule is in place for the schools attended by my siblings. They cannot bring baked goods or candy in their lunches, and are not allowed to pass birthday treats. This may seem like a health-conscious decision, but that should be a parent's choice -- and not the school's.
Jenny said…
I feel very insulted at accusations of hysteria when I've been specifically told by my allergist that my daughter will severely react (possibly fatally) to contact or ingestion of nuts.

What am I supposed to do? Hiding my head in the sand and pretending it isn't so isn't going to change the fact that exposure and ingestion of nuts is something I must help my daughter strictly avoid.

The people who are outraged that they can't trade treats or that they have to spend 2 minutes reading a label should walk a mile in my shoes--and my daughter's little shoes.

I don't know--I find this Dr. very discouraging. Guess I'm just "hysterical."

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