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Allergy New Zealand Welcomes Nut Ban Debate

Allergy New Zealand Welcomes Nut Ban Debate

National organisation Allergy New Zealand welcomes the debate on whether schools should ban nuts as a way to protect children with severe food allergy and anaphylaxis (a life-threatening condition).

Phone lines on radio talk-back shows ran hot yesterday following the front-page item in the Dominion Post on Wadestown School's nut ban.

While some callers suggested this was yet another example of PC gone wrong, others pointed out the seriousness of the problem that food allergies cause.

A food allergy is an abnormal response of the immune system to an otherwise harmless food. The immune system creates antibodies which trigger reactions whenever they come into contact with the food concerned. The reaction causes the release of chemicals including histamine throughout the body, and symptoms such as hives, respiratory distress, stomach pains and facial swelling, can occur. In some people these can also progress rapidly into what is called anaphylactic shock, including a sudden drop in blood pressure.

For reasons that are not yet known (although there are major research programmes internationally testing a number of hypotheses) food allergy appears to be increasing in most westernised countries. Studies overseas indicate as many as 6 - 8% of young children, and 3 ? 4% of adults now have a food allergy.

The difficulty that people with food allergy face, as well as parents of children with food allergy, is that even a trace of the food concerned can cause a reaction.

"We really appreciate how difficult and complex the issues are for schools and their communities to deal with," says Penny Jorgensen, CEO of Allergy New Zealand. "On the one hand schools have an obligation to keep students safe and minimise risk, on the other how far is it feasible to go when you have many other students to consider?

"In addition, putting in policies and procedures such as banning foods can be a considerable distraction from the real business of schools, to facilitate learning. However, given the serious nature of food allergies, and their increasing prevalence, more and more schools see the need to take the sort of action that Wadestown School has."

Mrs Jorgensen goes on to say that Allergy New Zealand is very pleased that the debate has increased awareness of the serious nature and increasing prevalence of food allergies, and that it is great to see schools taking the initiative before being forced to, as has happened overseas where deaths have occurred. "We are aware of a number of close calls where children have had an anaphylactic reaction at school, but have recovered due to the vigilance and preparedness of teachers and other students."


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