Food allergies are a growing health and safety concern in the classroom

A new study, "Impact of Food Allergies on School Nursing Practice" released in the October issue of The Journal of School Nursing findings reverberated what many in the medical community and educators have believed for years.

Food allergies are a growing health and safety concern in the classroom. This study supports the American Medical Association (AMA) position calling for training and education of school staff.

In the study, conducted by The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), 60% of the school nurses reported an increase in elementary-age students with food allergies in the classroom over the last five years. 94% of school nurses reported having at least 1 child with food allergies in their school. More than one third of the nurses indicated that they had 10 or more students in the school with food allergies, and 87% stated that, compared with other health-related issues, food allergies among school- age children is somewhat or very serious.

There is no cure for food allergies, so strict avoidance is the only way to prevent severe or life-threatening reactions. Safeguarding a child against a food-allergic reaction at school takes the cooperation and understanding of all parents, doctors, school administrators, teachers, school nurses, food service staff and classmates. Many times, however, this is the sole responsibility of the school nurse who may care for more than 500 students per school.

"Protecting a child from food allergies requires cooperation of the staff and proper educational tools, especially in a classroom setting," said Anne Munoz-Furlong, Founder & CEO of FAAN. "The Department of Education and state governments across the country must provide standardized training programs to school staff to address this growing health and safety issue."

In June 2004, the AMA reinforced that message with a call for schools to have established guidelines for managing food-allergic children. Citing concern that dangerous food allergies are on the rise, the AMA recommended that schools provide more student and teacher education on food allergies. The AMA also recommended that schools have guidelines for managing food allergy emergencies; and ensure epinephrine kits, the medication of choice to treat severe reactions, are on the premises with at least one staff member trained in their use.

In late September 2004, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenneger signed Senate Bill 1912 which will allow thousands of California students to carry and administer auto-injectable epinephrine throughout the school day. California students, with known food allergies and other allergic conditions, will be able to react immediately to the onset of an anaphylactic reaction. Quick treatment could be crucial to the recovery process or perhaps save the life of the student.

California became the sixth state to adopt a new law or regulation allowing children to carry prescribed epinephrine during the school day, others include: Delaware, New Hampshire, Michigan, Minnesota, and Maine. More than 11 million Americans have food allergies and approximately three million children under the age of 18 years old or 1-in-25 American children have a food allergy. Food allergy reactions result in more than 30,000 emergency room admissions each year.

Nearly 400 school nurses were surveyed in the telephone study conducted in 2003. Eighty-six percent of the nurses were full-time, and 91% were employed by public schools. The study was sponsored by The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN).


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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