5 reasons we shouldn’t joke about kids with food allergies

5 reasons not to joke about food allergiesManaging food allergy in schools remains a challenge. There is little evidence to guide school officials in managing and balancing both the needs of the 8% of children with food allergy, as well as the children without food allergy. Recent data from the March 2014 C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health demonstrated that there is no clear parental consensus on how to manage such issues. Striking a balance that allows all parties to feel their needs are validated is a tremendously difficult task, but mutually acceptable solutions are accomplishable.

In this light, recent comments made by elected a Clawson, Michigan school board member at their November Board of Education Meeting are disheartening and inappropriate. The board member suggested that students with food allergies “should be shot” as a means of accommodating their health concerns. Obviously, she was joking, but the comments were insensitive. Food allergy is not a laughing matter, and these children should not serve as a target of derision. Here are a few reasons why food allergies must be taken seriously within the education community.

  1. Food allergy is a rapidly growing chronic condition, affecting as many as 8% of children. Reactions can be quite severe, potentially fatal, and terrifying to experience. There are no cures or treatments for food allergies.
  2. Children, especially those with chronic health condition are fragile and vulnerable. They should never be the butt of a joke. This sets a horrible tone that it is acceptable to make light of someone, and demonstrates ignorance of and lack of empathy for those living with the particular condition.
  3. Accommodating multiple health concerns within a school is challenging, but not an excuse for a public display of intolerance of any student for any reason, including a health condition, religion, race, or income.
  4. School districts are a community, and members of the community must work together to solve problems. Administrators must lead by example. Derisive attitudes by school board members are counterproductive.
  5. Federal disability law affords children with food allergy and other conditions the right to seek accommodation. It is the school’s legal duty to comply as such.

I’d like to invite members of the Clawson school board, or other public education officials who are interested, to spend a day with us in clinic at the University of Michigan Food Allergy Center, to better understand the challenges associated with living with food allergy. When you interact directly with these families, it’s hard not to empathize. We all should work together to promote mutually beneficial strategies to deal with this growing epidemic.

Take the next step:
• Check out resources for managing food allergies in schools
• Learn about our food allergy education and training offerings

matthew greenhawt mdMatthew Greenhawt, MD, is Board-certified in pediatrics and allergy and immunology. He currently serves as an Assistant Professor in the Division of Allergy and Immunology at the U-M. A graduate of Tufts University, where he earned both his medical and Master of Business Administration degrees, he completed a fellowship in allergy and immunology at the U-M in 2008. He also received a Masters of Science in Health and Healthcare Policy at the U-M Rackham School of Graduate Studies in 2012. Dr. Greenhawt is a health services researcher, with an eye towards using his work to influence food allergy related health-care policy. His specific research interests include parental understanding of food allergy risk, utilization of food allergy diagnostic testing (including emerging molecular allergy diagnostic testing) and oral food challenges, emerging food allergy therapeutics, optimal strategies for diagnosis and treatment of Eosinophilic Esophagitis, and Quality of Life among families with food allergy and Eosinophilic Esophagitis.

best children's hospitalsUniversity of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.

11 thoughts on “5 reasons we shouldn’t joke about kids with food allergies

  1. As a parent in this district and you being my sons doctor, I appreciate this post and I will 1000000% make sure I plaster them with your information.

  2. Thank you, Dr. Greenhawt, for advocating for our kids. I hope this school and others will take you up on your offer to visit the clinic and see how difficult food allergies can be.

  3. avatar
    Kathryn Coleman on said:

    Thank you for your thoughtful, simple, well-written piece. I would invite any of these board members into my home so they can witness first-hand what it’s like to live with a child with food allergies every day of their sweet lives. Thank you for your reasoned response to that member’s insensitive and ignorant remark.

  4. Just curious why food allergies have become, as you say, “a growing epidemic”? Is there a reason so many kids have these allergies? I can’t remember a single kid when I was in grade school having a peanut allergy, now it seems like lots of kids do. What has changed over the last 40 years?

    • avatar
      Sid Mallick on said:


      one of the working theory is that we are not allergic to food. we are allergic to what has been done to food over the last 40 years….perticides, GMOs, pink slime, antibiotics to animals etc….

    • It is also extremely likely that some of the increase is our ability to diagnose allergies. 40 years ago, there were kids who were considered sickly, or had a weak stomach, or even, who were thought to have “choked to death” on a sandwich or something else, which may very well have been anaphylaxis. Though, yes, there probably is an increase and no one reason why yet, but many theories.

  5. She should be fired, and never again be allowed to work with kids again. Personally I think criminal charges should be brought upon her. If a student made the same statement about a school board member they would be severely punished. I also think she should be forced to do community service in the allergy clinic alongside Dr. Greenhawt. Our kids have enough challenges to deal with, and cruelty from adults is beyond inexcusable!!!

  6. avatar
    Keish Hale on said:

    I think that school board member should be held accountable for her lack of tact and compassion. As a mother of a son who has food allergies I find it insulting that people like that are still Representing children.Just so sad

  7. avatar
    Richard Scott, D.O. on said:

    thanks. I posted a personal rant on Facebook yesterday. With a grandchild who has severe food allergies I have been petitioning my state legislators as well as major food chains to be responsible.

  8. hellow sir i am suffering from allergy. i dont know what types of my allergy. i am /sure this not about food allergy . so pls give your some information. what should i do for it remove pls help me

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