By: Julia Bradsher, PhD, MBA, CEO, The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) Date: 5/12/10
This week, communities across the country are recognizing Food Allergy Awareness Week (FAAW), a national awareness campaign that was started by FAAN in 1998 and is aimed at educating the public about food allergies and anaphylaxis. I appreciate the opportunity to guest-blog during FAAW, May 9-15.
In classrooms from coast to coast, students and teachers alike are learning about this potentially life-threatening medical condition through educational presentations, videos, and children’s books. Governors in at least 29 states have recognized FAAW with proclamations. And some of you may learn about food allergies after watching a national public service announcement featuring country music star Trace Adkins.
This information could save a life.
Approximately 12 million people in the U.S. have a food allergy – including 3 million children. Studies have shown the prevalence of food allergy among children increased by nearly 20 percent from 1997 to 2007. And researchers estimate that food allergy is the cause of approximately 300,000 ambulatory care visits per year among children.
These statistics alone should be cause for all of us to become educated about food allergies and to do our part to protect individuals who live with the challenge of staying free of reactions on a daily basis.
But much of the public remains uninformed. Myths about food allergies abound. Food allergies are not intolerances. There is no pill you can take to avoid a reaction. And there is no cure – yet.
That’s why our awareness and advocacy efforts are crucial. Through events such as our Walk for Food Allergy in more than 50 cities across the nation, we raise awareness as well as funds for a cure. Through our website, we offer information to the public that has been reviewed by FAAN’s Medical Advisory Board. And we have many other awareness initiatives, such as our Be a Pal: Protect a Life™ From Food Allergies peer education program.
Advocacy on behalf of the millions of individuals with food allergies is also an important part of our mission.
We are hopeful that Congress will pass The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Management Act in 2010. This crucial legislation would result in the creation of voluntary, national guidelines to help schools safely and effectively manage the growing number of students with food allergy. Currently, the bill is co-sponsored by more than one-third of the U.S. Senate and nearly 100 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
We are also working with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, celebrity chef Ming Tsai, and Boston-area allergists on implementation of a landmark new law in Massachusetts involving restaurants and food allergy. Under the provisions of the new law, restaurants in that state will display a food allergy awareness poster in their employee area; will post a notice on their menus related to food allergy; will utilize a food allergy training DVD and guide developed by FAAN; and will be eligible to obtain a “Food Allergy Friendly” designation from the state. We are optimistic that other states will follow the precedent being set in Massachusetts.
The theme of this year’s FAAW is “Respect Every Bite.” This is a message with two meanings: for the individual with food allergies, who must treat every bite of food as though it could potentially contain the allergen to which he or she is allergic, and for all of us, who must be respectful of those with food allergies by being compassionate and mindful of things that many people take for granted, such as sharing a bite to eat or dining at restaurants.
It is our hope that we can reduce the number of food-allergic reactions with our education and awareness efforts. With improved food labeling, restaurant education, and effective food allergy management in schools, we can improve the lives of millions with food allergies.
Once again, thanks to the International Food Information Council Foundation for this opportunity to reach out. Remember to: Respect Every Bite.