Most parents of kids with and without nut allergies don't support schoolwide bans on nut-containing products, according to a new University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health.
Schools don't have a single standard for managing environments for nut-allergic children, and there is no clear research about which strategy is safest at lunch or snacktime, says Sarah J. Clark, M.P.H., associate director of the National Poll on Children's Health and associate research scientist in the University of Michigan Department of Pediatrics.
So in this month's poll, parents of elementary school-aged kids both with and without nut allergies were asked what they thought was the best way to handle lunchtime for children with nut allergies.
The most preferred option among parents of nut-allergic kids was that their children should eat in a lunchroom with no restrictions on where their children sit or what other children eat (47 percent). In contrast, 22 percent of parents of nut-allergic children thought the best strategy for their child was a ban on nut-containing foods in the lunchroom or the school.
For parents of kids without nut allergies, the most preferred option was that nut-allergic children eat at a designated location (a nut-free table) where nut-containing foods aren't allowed (58 percent in favor).
"Children with allergies to peanuts or tree nuts must be very careful about what they eat. These allergies can carry life-threatening consequences," Clark says.
"But the results of this poll show that parents don't believe there is one right strategy for keeping nut-allergic kids safe."
The poll is based on a nationwide survey of 816 parents of children 5-12 years old, of which 5 percent reported their child has a peanut or tree nut allergy.
Matthew Greenhawt, M.D., of the University of Michigan Food Allergy Center, said the poll shows that parents of unaffected kids also are interested in making sure nut-allergic children are safe.
"These results are reassuring because it demonstrates parents of unaffected children have empathy and understanding. That can go a long way towards calming anxiety about sending a food-allergic child to school," Greenhawt says.
Clark said parents also were asked about their level of support if their children's school were to implement different policies for nut-allergic children: 61 percent would support a policy that nut-containing items are not allowed in classes with a nut-allergic child.
"These results provide hope that parents can work together with the schools to create a safe and mutually agreeable learning environment for their children," says Greenhawt.
Recent guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourage schools to consider the needs and preferences of nut-allergic children in deciding whether to designate a nut-free area or restrict nut-containing products altogether. Greenhawt says this poll's data can help schools struggling with policy questions.
"Schools, governments, parents and doctors who may be involved in the decisions around school nut policies should not presume that all parents of nut-allergic children have the same preferences. Seeking a broad range of input will help to craft a policy that meets the needs of all children," Greenhawt says.
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