Policies banning peanuts from classrooms appear to be working - even in schools where they don’t exist, according to research funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).
Most elementary schools have policies restricting peanut products. But few know how well they work - or how badly they are needed.
A CIHR-funded researcher, Dr. Ann Clarke is answering both those questions. In one study, she compared the proportion of lunches containing peanut products in schools with a policy banning the products where there are children with peanut allergies and in schools without such a policy.
“We were surprised to find that, in schools where peanuts are permitted, they only show up in 5-10% of lunches,” she reports. “Parents don’t know whether the policy applies in their child’s classroom, so they are choosing to avoid peanuts.”
This could be the safest choice, given that peanut allergy is the most common cause of deaths induced by allergic reactions to food. It may even be preferable, says Dr. Clarke, to a policy banning peanuts, which could give parents of children with peanut allergies a false sense of complacency.
The McGill University professor knows what she’s talking about. She carried out the first-ever study of the prevalence of peanut allergies, finding that 15 in 1000 Quebec children, or 1.5%, were allergic to peanuts, a number higher than any previous estimate in the world. Now, five years later, she is going back to the same schools that participated in the initial survey to determine if the prevalence of peanut allergies is increasing.
“I don’t anticipate that we will find an increase,” says Dr. Clarke. “If we do, it would be very concerning. It must mean that the environment is changing quite a bit. Ideally, though, you’d like to repeat this in 10 years and even after that.”
Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)
Revision date: June 21, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.