Food allergies becoming epidemic among kids

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - If you're an adult, you probably remember mom baking cookies or cupcakes to bring to school for your birthday, or other special occasions, but no more.

Food allergies have become an epidemic among school-age children. It's a problem that's turned life upside-down, because for some kids, just sitting near a classmate eating a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, could be fatal.

Derek Booth's party to celebrate his 6th birthday was held at Jumpology. Indoor trampolines are a big attraction when you're in the first grade and his mom invited everyone in his class, but some parents wouldn't allow their kids go.

It wasn't a fear of jumping. It was the cupcakes, the ice cream, the candy, and the soft drinks. The explosion of pediatric food allergies have parents on edge, and when declining the invitation, one mother didn't mince words.

"I just don't like my child to come to birthday parties like this, because its so severe, just to be around the items. It's a major concern for them," said Kim Booth.

Derek's party was still a success. His grandmother, Connie, taught school in Henrico for more than 20 years. She still wanted the kids to be able to celebrate, so she did the only thing the county would allow.

"We bought a gross of paw-print pencils, and took pencils and gave them to everyone in the classroom, rather than taking treats that were food," said Connie Booth.

If you like sweet treats, there's no better place to linger than the bakery at Whole Foods Market. All of their homemade cakes, pies and pastries have very clear labeling, with all of the ingredients, so there is no confusion for people with food allergies. They even sell pre-packaged treats, designed especially to be school safe.

Kids with peanut allergies should be concerned about products, even if they don't have peanuts in them. Cupcakes on one shelf made without any peanut products, could become cross-contaminated by mini-turtle cheese cakes, with pecans on top. The cross-contamination could be enough to send a child into anaphylactic shock.

Well known allergy specialist, Dr. William Hark, demonstrated new, high tech EpiPens he prescribes his food-allergy patients. The food-allergy epidemic is worldwide, and lifestyle changes seem to be at least part of the reason.

"Farming, hunter-gatherers, they have a very low instance of allergies in general. You take the same people and move them into the city, and their rate of allergies increases," said Dr. Hark.

At Godwin High School, in Henrico's Far West End, the school nurse keeps EpiPens on hands for 31 students with food allergies. There are about 1,700 students.

In the more rural Louisa County High School, with a population of about 1,400 kids, the nurse has only 13 EpiPens on hand.

Cleanliness may be a big issue. We've become a germ-phobic society that overuses antibiotics. We're too clean, which in turn, confuses our immune system, possibly sparking food allergies and asthma.

"Instead of fighting bacteria, viruses and parasites, it tends to overreact to allergens, foods and things in the air."

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