The Problem With The Problem With Peanuts

Last week I posted an admittedly non-researched post about the strange new world of peanut allergies that we parents now live in.  After writing it, and seeing all of the comments about it, I got kind of curious and decided to actually do some research on the subject, and what I found out was really, really annoying.

My first question, although perhaps not the most important in hindsight, was “Why do so many people have peanut allergies now, when just 20 years ago everyone in every school in America brought PB&J for lunch?”  As is turns out, there is no definite answer, although there are a few theories.  One study found a link between soy products and peanut allergies, while another found no such link.  The most likely answer seems to be that for some reason, a couple of decades ago people were advised not to give their babies peanuts, and not to eat them during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.  As it turns out, there is no reason at all not to give, say, your 1-year-old peanuts, and so The American Association of Pediatrics took back their recommendation a few years ago and now says that peanuts are fine for everyone, but a lot of people still think that peanuts are a food to avoid during those sensitive times.

An interesting fact to back that claim up is that countries that generally give their children peanuts at a younger age tend to have lower rates of peanut allergies.  So basically, we did this to ourselves with our over-caution.

Ah, over-caution.  This leads me to the question I should have been asking in the first place, which is “Just how bad of a problem is this peanut allergy thing?”  One would assume that schools with strict peanut rules have a child going there that has a severe allergy, right?  There are people all over the place that will drop dead at the hint of a whiff of something that has touched a peanut, right?  I mean, why else would there be so many strict and crazy rules at our public and private schools?

Here are the facts about the peanut allergy “epidemic.”  3.3 million Americans are allergic to peanuts.  Now, that includes people who are only mildly allergic as well as those to whom peanuts are deadly.  Does that seem like a lot?  After all, it is 1% of America.  Of course, 6.9 million people are allergic to seafood, but we haven’t banned shrimp in schools.

Every year in America, there are 30,000,000 hospitalizations.  Thirty million!  But guess how many are food related: 2,000.  Only 2000 people per year have to go to the hospital for a food allergy thing, and that is not just peanuts, that is everything.  Number of food allergy deaths per year?  150.  Number of deaths attributed to bee stings and people being struck by lightening per year?  150.  So basically, you have the same chances of being stuck by lightening and killed as you do of being killed by food.  And the number of peanut-related deaths per year?  10.

Ten people per year die because of peanuts!  TEN!  Now, I’m not saying that ten lives are not important, but this is a slippery slope!  Want to know the number of serious sports-related brain injuries per year?  10,000!  And that’s just in children!  2,000 kids drown every year, and around 1,600 die because of gun accidents.  Why aren’t sports banned in all schools?!  Why is swimming allowed?

It is also worth noting that, according to the studies that have been done, secondary contact with peanuts (smelling a peanut, touching something that touched a peanut) do not generally cause any sort of reaction in allergic individuals, and when they do, it is not severe.  It is not possible to die from smelling someone’s peanut breath.  It is not possible to die from eating a pretzel that was on a machine that had touched a peanut.  The most severely allergic might get a rash or something, but the whole thing has been completely overblown.

The problem isn’t with peanuts, but rather the problem is with our problem with peanuts.  There may be someone at your school with a peanut allergy, but they are probably not going to die.  And if they are going to die, then I think it is well and good that peanuts should not be brought into that particular classroom.  But to ban all peanuts and peanut-related products, and products that were made in a plant that also houses peanuts, for everyone in the whole school as a general policy, regardless of whether or not you have any allergic students?!  This is insanity!  But how can you go to a school board and argue against the “safety of children?”  Well, you can bring the facts.

I think, at the very center of this issue, this hits a place for me that I feel very strongly about.  It’s why I get mad at airport security, and why I feel that we way over-spend on the military.  It’s why I am furious about the police brutality at the Occupy events around the country.  One of my core beliefs is that freedom should almost always trump security.  Obviously there are limits, and we do need some semblance of structure and security in order to live our lives, but when we start giving up our rights and our liberties just to feel a tiny bit safer, then we’ve lost what I feel are some of the most important parts of this country.  So give me my peanut butter back, dammit!

Posted in Parenting, Peanuts.

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