Do Peanut-Free Schools Actually Prevent Reactions?

Quick Summary of Do Peanut-Free Schools Actually Prevent Reactions?
1. Peanut-Free Schools Don’t Appear To Prevent Allergic Reactions
2. Why is Epinephrine Use Higher In Peanut-Free Schools?
3. Smelling Or Touching A Peanut Does Not Cause An Allergic Reaction
4. What Else Can Schools Do To Lower The Risk Of Reactions?
5. Teachers Need To Know How To Administer Epinephrine.

Peanuts represent a very large portion of all food allergies among children. In response, some years ago an idea was proposed to organize peanut-free school zones. It has since caught on as such schools are found all over the country. Unfortunately, recent data shows that these peanut-free schools aren’t having their intended effect. In fact, epinephrine use in peanut-free schools is higher than in those without such policies. So, do peanut-free schools actually prevent reactions? According to the majority of data on the subject, it doesn’t appear so.

Peanut-Free Schools Don’t Appear To Prevent Allergic Reactions

The small amount of data that exists on this topic (here, for example) says as much. In this study (and others like it) there was “no significant difference” in the number of accidental allergic reactions related to peanuts compared to other schools.

The truth is that most children experience accidental exposure to their allergen off school grounds. Less than 5% of anaphylactic events to children happen while they’re at school. The most common environments where reactions occur are at home, at someone else’s home, or at a restaurant. So the argument could be made that there really wasn’t a huge reactions-in-school problem to begin with.

Taking precautions in any scenario is never unwise. But in the case of peanut-related allergic reactions in children, we were never dealing with a schoolyard epidemic.

The One Exception

There is one peanut allergy-related school policy that has been reported to work. Peanut-free tables in the cafeterias. Schools that implemented this did report a lower rate of EpiPen usage over the course of multiple studies.

Why is Epinephrine Use Higher In Peanut-Free Schools?

Not much research has been done to answer this question officially, but there are theories. One believable explanation is that it’s simply impossible to effectively monitor. School staff would have to manually check the backpacks and lunch boxes of every student and adult that sets foot on school grounds. The amount of time this would take is unreasonable.

There are also lots of parents who don’t know how to read food labels properly. Even some who have children with food allergies aren’t as adept as they should be. This leads many children to unknowingly bring offending foods to school, regardless of what school policy may prohibit. Plus, having a declared policy often leads school staff into a false sense of security. They don’t check lunches as often because they feel the overall risk is lower because the school has a policy.

Smelling Or Touching A Peanut Does Not Cause An Allergic Reaction

In order for someone to have an allergic reaction to peanuts, they have to eat it or inhale it. Simply touching one or smelling its aroma is simply not sufficient. It’s a common misconception that any contact whatsoever with a peanut is all it takes. Now, touching a peanut and then rubbing your mouth or eyes can definitely cause a reaction. But touching it alone cannot.

Of course, the severity of a person’s peanut allergy can vary from person to person. But the physical makeup of a peanut does not vary from nut to nut. We mention this only to promote further education on peanut food allergies.

What Else Can Schools Do To Lower The Risk Of Reactions?

The best way to lower the risk of allergic reactions in school is to increase education and awareness. There are different ways to accomplish this, and one way may not be the best option for every school. Parents of children with food allergies should communicate with their child’s school administration. Together, they can come up with the best plan of action.

Teachers need to know what signs to look for and what to do if an allergic reaction occurs. School lunch staff needs to know the nature and severity of food-allergic children.

Some Additional Classroom-Specific Suggestions

One of the most effective ways to prevent the spreading of allergens is regular hand-washing. Teachers should encourage kids to wash their hands multiple times a day while at school. This will do a lot to prevent accidental peanut exposure.

It’s recommended to have a no-food sharing rule in all classrooms. Yes, we said earlier that simply having a policy doesn’t necessarily affect behavior. However, this rule is more manageable. Teachers should be able to do a good job of making sure kids aren’t sharing food in their individual classrooms. The cafeteria is another situation entirely. But at least, in the classroom, this rule should be feasibly enforceable.

The no-food-sharing-in-the-classroom rule should eliminate a high percentage of risk. This is because, as mentioned above, over 70% of at-school allergic reactions happen in the child’s classroom. Not in the cafeteria.

Here’s a link to a helpful webpage with ideas to help schools plan for children with food allergies.

Teachers Need To Know How To Administer Epinephrine

Peanut-free policy or not, there’s no way to fully eliminate the chance of something happening. So take the necessary steps to make sure your child is safe in case they do have an accidental reaction.

Studies have shown that an uncomfortably low percentage of teachers would be comfortable administering epinephrine to a child. If you’re a parent of a child with food allergies, make sure this is not the case in their school. You need to take the initiative on this. Provide an EpiPen to your child’s teacher. Agree on a place where it will be stored. Show them how to properly use it in case of an emergency. This will give you peace of mind perhaps more than anything else.

Do Peanut-Free Schools Actually Prevent Reactions? – Conclusion

According to available studies, these initiatives don’t move the needle enough to be impactful in any meaningful way. In fact, the data suggests that school administrations are doing a good job at preventing allergic reactions among children. The decision to declare a school a “peanut-free zone” is of course entirely up to them. However, education and awareness appear to be much more impactful.

Do Peanut-Free Schools Actually Prevent Reactions

Do Peanut-Free Schools Actually Prevent Reactions?

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