A Melbourne study has found more than 40 per cent of Australian adolescents with food allergies are experiencing frequent allergic reactions, including potentially lethal anaphylactic attacks.
The School Nuts study conducted by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute involved more than 10,000 students aged 10 to 14.
Of the 547 children with a food allergy, 44 per cent had experienced an allergic reaction in the past year, while almost 10 per cent reported a potentially life-threatening anaphylactic reaction.
Brunswick East student, Emilia Habgood, 15, has been allergic to egg, wheat and peanuts from a young age but experienced two dangerous allergic reactions at home and at a friend’s house.”A lot of studies studies are on little kids, like if they give foods to kids maybe they’ll grow out of it, but for us — we’re just stuck with it.”
The Institute’s Professor Katie Allen said researchers were surprised to find reactions most commonly occurred at home, rather than in schools or at restaurants and cafes.
“We were astounded because people who have had a food allergy are meant to avoid the food … and this suggests that in the community there’s a bit of a tip-of-the-iceberg phenomenon,” she said.
Professor Allen said the study raised lots of questions about why young people were having frequent allergic reactions.
“Is it because they’re taking more risks now as they become less supervised in an environment of transitioning independence?” she said.
“Or is it because they’re less educated about how to avoid the foods, or because their food allergy itself is changing in nature?”
Reaction incident was ‘very scary’
Emilia said she once had an allergic reaction after mistakenly eating some banana bread at home that had been baked with wheat and egg for her brother.
On another occasion, her mouth felt itchy and tingly after she ate pesto at a friend’s house and her friend then realised he had crushed peanuts into the dip.
“I took an antihistamine but then I started getting breathing problems and I took a lot of puffs on my asthma medication and mum said if I had to take (the puffer) again, I’d had to have my EpiPen,” she said.
Food labelling could lead to complacency
Professor Allen said the food industry’s self-regulated “precautionary labelling”, where consumers were warned the food “may contain traces of nuts” was widely over-used and could lead to complacency.
“It is actually unhelpful for consumers because there is no indication about what is safe to eat,” she said.
“We think the food industry wants to cover themselves and in fact that’s doing a disservice to the consumer because the consumer is taking all of the risk … in my view, it’s become almost useless.”
Professor Allen has urged the industry to adopt what is called “permissive” labelling, indicating the product had been through a thorough risk-assessment process and that “we can’t promise you it’s safe but we think it’s reasonably safe.”
“Unfortunately Melbourne is the food allergy capital of the world, so we have a big problem here that we need to address and we need to do something about it now,” she said.
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