A new study proves the public is misinformed about food allergies..

Knowledge about food allergies and its dangers is lacking, according to a new study by Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Based on a survey, 65 percent of respondents answered knowledge based questions accurately. In addition, 46 percent thought there is a cure for food allergies. Dr. Rachel Story, attending physician, Allergy & Immunology at Children’s Memorial Hospital spoke at the Illinois MOCHA (Mothers of Children Having Allergies) meeting and shared the recent findings with attendees. She shared some fascinating information about new research methods, and the results look promising in the long term. But for now, I am still astounded by the lack of awareness about the real dangers of food allergy by the public.

Another key point Dr. Story discussed was that 2/3 of respondents thought that daily medication taken by the food allergic individual prevented life threatening reactions. In addition, 2/3 of parents surveyed thought it would be unfair for their non food allergic child to bring a peanut butter sandwich or other peanut product to school. Of course, like many of you, I have heard this “unfair” situation firsthand, along with that other taboo subject; celebrating birthday parties at school with food.

These findings indicate what we, as parents of food allergic children have known all along. The public reaction to food allergies is largely due to a general lack of awareness and understanding of how life threatening food allergic reactions can be. I’ve heard from parents who are are unfamiliar with food allergies compare my son’s dairy allergy to a lactose intolerance, and asked if I could just have John take something like Lactaid. I’ve heard from parents who think people can only suffer anaphylactic reaction from peanuts. I’ve also heard from parents asking if John could have cheese pizza, even thought they knew he had a milk allergy (apparently thinking he was only allergic to milk, and not all dairy products). Finally, I’ve heard from parents who still had the look of shock and awe in their faces when I told them it would only take minutes for my son to die if he didn’t have the right rescue medication on him at all times. Even then, a food allergic person can continue to suffer anaphylactic shock after being given a dose of epinephrine (hence the reason to always carry two on you at all times, and immediately call 911 after administering medication).

You’ve all heard it too, I am sure. This is why we need to step up our efforts and raise awareness in our own communities wherever, and whenever possible. Attend a local FAAN walk with your family and friends, donate money to the various food allergy organizations listed on my homepage, have frequent dialogues with your school’s principal and nurse about policies and procedures, use play dates and parties as a opportunity to educate about food allergy issues and write letters to your local papers, magazine and news shows asking them to do more stories on food allergies. As a former producer, I can tell you first hand, the people in the news business DO listen to their readers and viewers, and are always looking for interesting story ideas.

Finally, if you live in the Chicago area and want to participate in the groundbreaking food allergy study at Children’s Memorial Hospital, please contact me for more information or go to the MOCHA website. The study still needs a few hundred case families, and the time commitment is only two hours, once a year. It’s a small chunk of time but could prove enormously helpful in finding a cure for food allergies. Also, tickets are now available for the very cool FAI Chicago benefit, to be held October 24th at the River East Art Center in Chicago. This will be THE food allergy event to attend as it attracts the Who’s Who of Chicago donors. FAI Chicago will also hail the accomplishments of Chef Charlie Trotter for dedicating excellence in health and well being of his restaurant’s patrons. If you wish to receive an invite, please email me. If you live out of state, please consider donating the cost of a $300 ticket.

We CAN make a difference, and I believe we will.