December 12, 2008

Report: Fear of nuts creating hysteria

Measures imposed to reduce exposure to nuts are often based on irrational fears of nut allergies, a U.S. researcher suggests.

Professor Nicolas Christakis of the Harvard Medical School in Boston says a peanut on the floor of a school bus can lead to evacuation and decontamination for fear that it might be eaten by the 10-year-old passengers, and schools declare themselves nut free by banning nuts, peanut butter, home baked goods and any foods without ingredient labels.

However, there is no evidence that any of these extreme nut restrictions work better than more circumscribed policies or that they are worth the money and disruptions they create, Christakis says.

In the United States, 150 people die annually from food allergies, but he compared this to 50 who die from bee stings, the 100 who die from lightening strikes, or the 45,000 who die in motor vehicle accidents -- but these issues do not incur such extreme reactions, Christakis writes in the British Medical Journal.

These extreme measures to reduce exposure to nuts are fueling anxiety in parents, leading to more sensitization and creating the very epidemic they are designed to stop, but a recent study suggested early exposure to peanuts actually reduces, rather than increases the risk of allergy, Christakis says.