Be forewarned, in research for this week’s column the source material consulted was the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) and other incredibly long-winded medical publications. I’ll understand if you turn the page to read the obituaries about this time.
Certainly I’m not the only one to notice there seems to be a large number of people, mostly kids, allergic to some sort of food. More often than not that food is peanuts. Even though I had a parent almost in tears convincing me that her child’s allergy was real, without trying to sound insensitive, I just didn’t get it at the time. Hardly anyone over the age of 50 has experienced this malady. While reading about peanut allergies, I made a surprising discovery.
When baby boomers were growing up there was no one in school allergic to any food, particularly peanuts. I can say this with certainty because there were no health secrets hidden by HIPPA protections; everyone knew about other people’s illnesses. Remember, this was a time when hospital admissions and discharges were routinely published in the newspapers. This was also the same time which the peanut butter and jelly sandwich was the mainstay of the school lunchroom with no one at N.H.S. going into anaphylactic shock.
The sensitivity to certain foods proliferated with the last generation’s offspring, so it is highly doubtful this speedy aversion to a type of food is genetic. According to the NEJM, since 1997 peanut allergy reactions have quadrupled, and if the reason isn’t genetic it must be environmental. All the doctors had to do was figure out the difference in the way parents raise their children in the past two decades.
The doctors who studied this food allergy phenomenon concluded the adolescent aversion to peanuts is proven by the “Hygiene Hypothesis.” In other words - kids wash their hands too much. Too much hand washing, especially with bacteria-killing, sanitizing soaps don’t allow young people any exposure to bacteria. Washing your hands should not be a sterilization process because the introduction of bacteria is important for our immune system to develop a method to repel the germs. This is the same reason we inoculate with live attenuated viruses.
The next time you are shopping, stop by the soap aisle and try to find soap bars that are not labeled “anti-fungal” or “anti-bacterial” - they are few and far between. Your best bet is good ole floating Ivory. It’s nothing but soap and a bonus, Proctor and Gamble make Ivory unscented, too.
If you find it hard to believe being too clean is the cause of this relatively new disorder, how about this tidbit: peanut allergies are nearly non-existent in Africa, Asia, and most third world countries. All the places where clean running water is hard to find. The common locations for peanut allergy cases are the westernized, first-world countries, conspicuously the US, Canada, and the UK.
Prior to computer games and Purell hand sanitizer, kids went outside and played in the dirt with other dirty, runny-nosed kids. While they were having physical fun, their bodies were exposed to a Radio Flyer wagon-full of viruses, bacteria, and germs. The rough housing on the playground usually led to cuts and scrapes that offered a wide open door for germs to get into the immune system.
The topic of my column last July (July 11, 2018) was about “helicopter parents” not letting their children outside to play unsupervised and the psychological problems associated with that. Now doctors have learned that overprotective parents have caused the food allergies for their kids. The impact isn’t on their child alone; it also affects every child in the same school. A short conversation with any cafeteria kitchen worker will tell you what a daunting task it is to find a peanut free menu.
There was no intention to make light of this serious illness or offend any of the sufferers of food allergies. It must be a terrible affliction to live with. It is just as sad to learn this was completely self-induced. No mom or dad has an expectation to take parenting advice from a newspaper columnist, but I’ll offer it anyway; kids are tough and resilient. It takes a great deal of effort to break one. Just let kids be kids, the odds are they’ll grow up as fine, healthy adults – if you let them.