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Food Allergy Backlash

“Gross over-reaction” or fundamental health and safety issue?

TORONTO – April 7, 2009 – How far should our schools go to protect the health and safety of our children? This is the great debate that Allergic Living magazine raises in its Spring ’09 cover story: “Backlash Boards the Bus.”

When medical sociologist Dr. Nicholas Christakis heard that students evacuated a bus at his children’s school because of one solitary peanut, he was appalled. But he didn’t just raise objections with the principal. Instead he wrote a column in the British Medical Journal that branded ALL school anaphylaxis measures as a form of “epidemic hysteria,” and raised the spectre of neurotic parents and educators feeding off each other’s fears in an endless cycle of anxiety.

In its Spring issue, Allergic Living discovers that Christakis struck a chord, that he is far from alone in his opinions that food allergies have cascaded into the realm of societal myth. The topic has become an international media debate with Harper’s, Time, The New York Times, the National Post and numerous bloggers all weighing in. Yet, to the parents of hundreds of thousands of children in Canada with dangerous – and very real – food allergies, the views being expressed are often frightening, divisive and hurtful.

The highly contentious debate prompted Allergic Living editor Gwen Smith to zero in on the heart of the matter in the latest issue: Why do people love to hate food allergies? The magazine finds widespread attention to Christakis’s opinion is having a polarizing effect, with those in the contrarian camp now suggesting that school anaphylaxis precautions are doing more harm than good, while allergy advocates emphatically defend the need to protect vulnerable allergic students.

A Mayo Clinic study released in December found that food allergic reactions in the U.S. resulted in 50,000 emergency room visits, up from 30,000 in 1999. Can anyone reasonably argue that food allergies do not present some measure of health concern?

The shadow of doubt is perhaps rooted in frustration over small inconveniences and isolated situations, such as the school bus incident, which are exactly that: isolated. Smith contends that what’s getting lost in the hyperbole is the rationale and the reasonableness of food allergy measures. The fact is: they save lives.

Click to view an excerpt of Backlash Boards the Bus in the Spring issue of Allergic Living.

Also in the Spring issue: The science behind oral allergy syndrome. About 10 per cent of Canadians have a confounding condition that causes intense reactions to fruits and vegetables. Read all about it.

Allergic Living is available by subscription ( and at Chapters outlets, Shoppers Drug Mart and London Drugs.


For more information about this article, or to arrange an interview with Allergic Living editor
Gwen Smith, call Beth Sulman at 416-628-5602 or

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