Over the past 20 years, the amount of children diagnosed with some sort of food allergen or intolerance has close to doubled. Celiac disease, a disease with no existing cure but to eat a strict gluten-free diet has risen to a statistic today of approximately 1 in 133 people diagnosed. Though Celiac can develop in a person at any point in their life, it is most commonly diagnosed in children. A peanut allergy, one of the most common allergens occurs in 4-6% of children in the US. Other common allergens include cows milk, eggs, shellfish, tree nuts, and soybeans.
With this increased awareness in allergens and intolerance, schools and day cares are being forced to take major precautions. Some schools are even “peanut free” with no form of peanuts allowed into the school, anywhere.
Haley Ashenfelter, the Y’s Kids Coordinator for the Waterloo YWCA Lincoln Elementary location must be extra cautious in her work with kids. With one child having a severe peanut allergy, one with an egg allergy, and one with Celiac, she says it is a daily struggle to take precautions.
“We really do have a hard time with snack time and lunches because some of their allergens are so bad, they can hardly be in the same room as the product. We have to keep their foods completely separate from all the other kids, and its hard for them at that age to fully understand why they just can’t eat what the other kids eat,” Ashenfelter said.
Though Lincoln serves as a peanut-free school, there still have been incidents of birthday treats brought in and food shared that wasn’t healthy for the child to eat.
“It’s really difficult these days to find out exactly what ingredients food contains. Something may not have wheat products in it, but it may have been processed on equipment in contact with wheat, therefore, a potential problem for our kid with celiac,” Ashenfelter stated.
Jill Holechek, a teacher in the toddler room at Blessed Beginnings Day Care also says the task is difficult.
“We have children all over our day care, in almost every room, with some sort of food allergy or Celiac. It’s crazy how common it has become,” Holechek said.
Because Blessed Beginnings is a full-day day care, meaning all meals, breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served to children there.
“We have to be careful. The people who prepare the food and cook for the kids do their best to keep all mixing bowls, utensils, plates, etc. as separate as possible, but we tell our parents that we can’t ensure complete gluten-free or peanut-free. Most kids who have a severe case will have meals prepared by their parents before that they can bring in,” stated Holechek.
Though there are medications for some types of allergies, food allergens and intolerances tend to have no cure but to avoid that food at all costs. With a continuing increase, and no sight of that cure, these precautions taken by day care and school providers are imperative to the health of attending children.