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Food Allergy

Profile: TV’s Nanny Jo Frost on Her Allergies

I told them this story. They listened, and I got a lot of sympathy and they said it was unacceptable, they apologized on behalf of the crew, and said they would follow up. But I’ve still yet to hear from them. I’m a very solutions-oriented person, but I was met with this defensive attitude. It was: “no, no and that’s our policy, and no.”

AL: If you had the chance to speak to an airline CEO on this topic, what would you say?

JF: I would say that I do understand that they want to accommodate light snacks on a flight. But I would really urge them to look at the many alternatives that there are as snacks. We’re talking about anaphylaxis here.

If we can become more aware in public places: airplanes, schools and with the labeling of products, maybe we can get America to look differently at those who have life-threatening medical conditions like anaphylaxis. We should look to prevent situations. We’re spending billions of dollars dealing with issues in the aftermath rather than looking at how we prevent.

AL: Have you experienced anaphylaxis?

JF: Yes, I have. The worst I’ve dealt with left me in hospital for a couple of days and my blood pressure went really low. [This incident happened three years ago, brought on by a restaurant meal.] I had been told, very confidently, that were no nuts in a particular meal, and there were. It left me never in the same place again.

I have allergies and asthma management under control; I carry an EpiPen, I have my inhalers for my asthma, which I take. What has changed is my ability to trust those who may not be fully informed. You have to read between the lines. [At a restaurant] if they say, “I think so,” that is not – “I know so”. Now in a restaurant, I ask: “Are you sure?” and “Can I see the chef?” because I have to be in control of my life and responsible for my life, so I will do what’s necessary to do that.

I don’t see myself as a sufferer and I don’t see it as a disability. I just know there are certain things that I can’t do. For instance, I would love to go horseback riding, but I can’t; it’s life or death. [As a child, Frost had a very bad reaction to horses that required emergency treatment.] So there are things you can do and things you can’t. For instance, I waterski and cycle, things like that.

AL: I’m not surprised to hear your attitude, as you always do seem like a positive person.

JF: I think it’s a mindset. From a very young age, I had eczema, allergy and asthma, and I was raised [in England] by parents who didn’t see this as a handicap. I was incredibly involved in sports. I had asthma, but I ran the 100-meter sprint at school and played nationally a game called netball – similar to basketball – I did the long jump. I still cycle and love swimming.

You say that I sound confident as a grown woman, but it does start young. It’s important for parents of allergic children to recognize the seriousness but to keep your explanations really simple and to teach your children to make decisions that impact their quality of life and the safety of their life.

AL: Tell us a little about your new show for the TLC network, “Family S.O.S. with Jo Frost”.

JF: People know me for dealing with [children’s] unruly behavior, discipline, implementing rules and following through. But the idea with my new show is to take the focus to the whole family and how we how we can become more mindful as a family and help and support each other more. We’ve got women working, blended families, adoption, families in the military. Then we’ve got 21st century issues like bullying, teens and technology and girls, self-image and what’s portrayed in the media.

I have the opportunity to stretch at TLC, which is amazing. Helping is what I’m really passionate about. I feel very blessed that we have families courageous enough to have me come into their homes and talk about their issues and do that with a couple of cameras and sound guys. If it wasn’t for those families, we would not be helping millions around the world. It’s very empowering when families realize that. It’s an emotional journey but it’s very fulfilling for everybody.

I would love for families to come forward with issues like dealing with asthma or food allergies. If I’m able to help families who do reach out, then I’m able to extend that to a much wider base of families who have these conditions.

AL: You mention bullying. Two U.S. studies show that about one-third of kids with food allergies have faced teasing or bullying, including have allergens waved in front of them. What’s your advice for families in such circumstances?

JF: Bullying is bullying and all forms of harassment have to be taken to a school authority to take care of that. Bullying that involves peanut or another food that a child is allergic to is a life-threatening situation and we need teachers to be more aware of this. We need for our children to feel they can go to the adults, who can be trusted to take care of this.

If we leave children feeling that things will not be handled, then children try to handle it themselves, in the best way they possibly can. That’s an enormous amount of stress and pressure on a child who actually doesn’t know what to do to make things better. If you’re waving [a food allergen] around, it’s bullying. There needs to be open dialogue at PTA meetings and parents and teachers coming together to understand the importance of it, as we would in any case where there’s bullying and harassment.

Next: Advice for teens

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Allergic Living acknowledges the assistance of the OMDC Magazine Fund, an initative of the Ontario Media Development Cooperation.