As I previously wrote, a recent peanut recall has prompted many people to start reviewing food labels for traces of peanut. This new scare is propelled by a fear of salmonella and has spread the awareness of just how many products are made with peanuts, or are made factories with peanuts.
But, for many people, screening labels is a part of everyday life and as routine as tying their shoes.
Meet the peanut allergy sufferers.
I turned to our resident peanut allergy sufferer, Brian Lucas, Senior Director of Communications at the University of Minnesota Academic Health Center. Below, Brian provides some insight into a day in the life of a person who can’t eat a Snickers bar.
For many people, the peanut is an almost beloved dietary staple. Peanut butter sandwiches maybe fall just below apple pie on the list of American food icons. Travelers on airplanes hoard and devour packets of peanuts like they’re some sort of magic elixir.
But for more and more people, the peanut represents something altogether different. For people with peanut allergies, this innocent looking food is a life-threatening predator that requires constant vigilance.
According to new research from the University of Minnesota, peanut allergies are on the rise. In fact, statistics from one Minnesota county indicate that the allergy rate has tripled over the last decade.
As someone who has a severe peanut allergy, and who has a daughter with both a peanut and a tree nut allergy, the research results are hardly surprising.
When I was growing up, the concept of a peanut allergy was preposterous to many people. When I told my friends and their parents about my allergy, the response was often amusement or irritation that I was being a picky eater. On more than one occasion I was served a peanut butter sandwich despite my explanation of the allergy.
“You can eat peanut butter though, right?” was a common question from frustrated Moms.
I had to stay on guard against the threat and I learned to be my own advocate at an early age. Still, it was almost impossible to avoid contaminated food and I wound up in the emergency room numerous times.
Luckily for Brian, awareness of peanut allergies is on the rise, due in part to a rise in the numbers of peanut allergy sufferers across the U.S. and worldwide.
As Brian mentioned, Maria Rinaldi, epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and her colleagues reviewed the medical records of several hundred children in Olmsted County, in southeastern Minnesota, and found that new diagnoses of peanut allergy rose from two out of every 10,000 kids in 1999 to nearly seven out of every 10,000 in 2007.
Their report, Peanut allergy diagnoses among children residing in Olmsted County Minnesota, was published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, and found 65 of every 10,000 children in the county had a verified peanut allergy in 2007.
Because allergic reactions to peanuts can be severe, measures to protect allergy sufferers from accidental exposure are becoming more common, too. There are now bans on airplanes, peanut-free sections of baseball stadiums and packaged snacks manufactured in nut-free environments.
No one has proven why allergies are increasing, but it’s clear they are. Until more research is done to uncover the reason behind this surge, it’s important to be aware of the dietary restrictions of those around you.