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The Allergy Blogs • The Editor's Desk

Chatelaine vs. Food Allergies

With many years in the publishing industry, I thought I’d seen it all when it comes to negative or one-sided reporting. Then I read a story in the December issue of Chatelaine magazine entitled, “It’s Just Nuts.” This one made my jaw drop.

The article is at once breathtaking in its cynicism about the rise of food allergies and misleading in its abuse of facts and statistics. It begins with the image of parents and schools across the land “cowering in fear of the tiny peanut,” followed by a rhetorical question that becomes the premise: “Are we overreacting to food allergies?”

Writer Patricia Pearson then skewers the hard-won accommodations in schools to protect food allergic children. Not once does she speak to a principal or teacher to find out the schools’ perspective. Had she, she would likely have heard why restrictions on certain foods are easier to manage than discovering 10 peanut butter sandwiches amid a classroom of boisterous students, where some have severe peanut allergies.

Not once does she slow up to consider the pathology of anaphylaxis: a swift and dramatic reaction that can obstruct airways, cause severe facial swelling, violent bouts of nausea or diarrhea and precipitate a significant drop in blood pressure. It’s a traumatic event, which can, in rare circumstances, even be fatal. Not once, in fact, does Ms. Pearson give an example of a real child who has anaphylaxed. (And they aren’t hard to find.)

The writer singles out peanut allergy, wondering why it gets so much attention. Had she asked an allergist this question, he or she could have pointed her to studies showing that peanut is one of two top allergens for kids, and that peanut and tree nut allergies have triggered the majority of anaphylaxis deaths in North America. And since peanut butter is still a kids’ staple, it becomes a focus, though certainly not the only one.

At its root, what is the Chatelaine writer’s big issue with schools and food allergy management plans? It seems the principal at her son’s school has asked that peanut products not be brought on the premises as part of his anaphylaxis management strategy. This means her son can’t bring a peanut butter sandwich for lunch. And this is apparently a hardship.

Ms. Pearson’s article is actually a latecomer to a round of negative reporting on food allergies. [See Allergic Living’s “Backlash Boards the Bus” story from our Spring 2009 issue.] What I find particularly disturbing, though, is that this article ran in Chatelaine.

This isn’t some edgy, contrarian current affairs magazine, this is Canada’s leading women’s magazine; friend to all women and their children, with a reach of almost four million readers. The pre-Holiday issue with the “nutty” article also ran the more typical women’s magazine fare: “meals in a minute”, “Shortcut Christmas Dinner”, health, fitness, fashion and home décor stories.

This is your big sweater of a magazine: a warm, cozy, inclusive place with the odd “women of Afghanistan” article thrown in as a think piece. In Canada, getting taken down in Chatelaine is as close as it gets to being kneecapped by Oprah.