…Another Man’s Poison.

By Jim McVeagh 07/02/2010


I would imagine that there is nothing scarier for a teacher than to be confronted by a child having a full-blown allergic reaction to something. It is pretty stressful for emergency-trained doctors and nurses so it must be doubly so for a non-medical person. Schools have the dilemma of wishing to reduce the risk of a child having an allergic reaction but not making the construction of a healthy lunchbox an impossibility. I was impressed by the practical nature of their efforts and the lack of knee-jerk banning in this article in today’s HoS. Unfortunately, the teachers have to contend with frightening misinformation:

“Some of these kids we’re told have only got a minute before they can have permanent brain damage,” said Pemberton. “It is increasing and it frightens some teachers – the responsibility is enormous.”

I assume this garbled information has been relayed from a parent. If you are injecting yourself with an EpiPen, you should do it within the first minute, otherwise you may become unconscious. Teachers should inject the EpiPen as soon as possible because it is more effective the earlier it is given. No child will be permanently brain damaged because you didn’t get the dosage into them in under a minute. On the other hand, keeping the EpiPens in a filing cabinet is probably not a good idea. A better plan would be to issue each teacher with one to carry around.

Avoiding the allergen (thing that causes the allergy) itself would be the best way of avoiding allergic reactions, but this is not easily done. Eggs and nuts are the commonest severe allergies and amongst the commonest, cheapest healthy foods. Banning eggs and nuts would merely make it difficult for parents to put good food into their children’s lunches.

Sensibly, most schools avoid an outright ban on food and merely ban swapping lunches. This measure meets with the approval of allergy experts:

But Allergies New Zealand chief executive Penny Jorgensen said food bans made it harder for children to learn to manage the condition.

I am immediately stuck by how applicable this argument is to the proposed re-banning of unhealthy foods in tuck shops. Surely it would be better to teach the kids which foods are unhealthy and allow them to chose to purchase healthy foods? While this will certainly not work with some children, it is, overall, a far better way of ensuring children learn that unhealthy foods are a treat, not a way of life. A food ban merely takes the unhealthy food out of schools – the one environment where establishing healthy eating practices has some chance of working. While it may temporarily reduce some childhood obesity (but the evidence to date indicates it won’t), it does not teach children to choose a healthy variety of food when surrounded by unhealthy ones. This is precisely the sort of self-reliance, and responsibility for themselves, that they need to learn if they are not to become obese, self-gratifying adults.

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