May 12-18, 2019 is the 21st annual Food Allergy Awareness Week, designed to raise awareness of food allergies and anaphylaxis, while promoting respect, safety and inclusion. The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, known as FARE, created the awareness week to shed light on the serious public health crisis.
Food allergies, unlike food sensitivities, cause life- threatening reactions that often require emergency care.
Researchers estimate that 32 million Americans have food allergies. Within the staggering number, 5.6 million children, one in 13, suffer from food allergies.
While any food may cause adverse reactions, the most common foods responsible for allergic reactions are eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, sesame, shellfish, soy, tree nuts, and wheat. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention have reported that food allergies found in children has increased by 50 percent in recent years.
Two local preschoolers, Owen and Andy, know all too well about dealing with food allergies.
Laura Acosta, Owen’s mother, described how her journey with food allergies began when Owen was just nine months old, when he started eating his first solid foods and began vomiting and breaking out into hives. The Houston Moms Blog contributor stated, “Owen tested positive for eight out of the nine most common food allergies. My husband and I have no history of allergies, so we really did not expect that at all.”
Similarly, Liz Powell, Andy’s mother, described the severity of her son’s multiple food allergies. She explained, “Andy once took a single bite of cheese and was in the emergency room for two days due to his reaction.”
These two little boys share many of the same life-threatening allergies. Each boy and his family takes precautions to ensure his safety. Powell discussed that, to remain prepared at all times, her son always takes a backpack with him during any outings that contains his necessities: an EpiPen, Benadryl, and Clorox wipes.
She noted, “We don’t have the luxury of being impulsive. We have to plan everything to keep Andy safe.”
Each boy has felt the sting of isolation at one time or another when dangerous, allergen containing food items were being shared among friends or people in their communities were not educated and understanding about food allergies. Acosta and Powell both experienced worry that their sons’ allergies caused others to feel inconvenienced and were often insecure about needing others to make accommodations. The families often found isolation because people are widely unaware and uninformed aboout severe food allergies.
But, serendipitously, the boys ended up in the same class at Foundations Academy, gaining a new friend and extended family who understands.
Foundations Academy has made both Owen and Andy welcome by promoting a nut-free environment and participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project, a movement to include all Halloween Trick or Treaters by providing non-food items from which to choose.
Acosta noted, “The point of the Teal Pumpkin Project is not to take anything away from anyone to keep our boys safe, but to add something to make sure children with allergies are included.”
The school has set a great example that coincides with a large part of Food Allergy Awareness Week: inclusion.
The mothers emphasized that a few simple changes to include everyone is all it takes. Much like their school, even their neighborhoods and churches were more than willing to include special non-food treats at neighborhood events and take simple precautions to help. Their friends and neighbors simply wash their hands and keep risky snacks to themselves when playing with the boys and sometimes make safe snacks just for the boys to enjoy.
FARE’s campaign “Contains: Courage” is a fundraising and awareness movement to educate communities about food allergies. During Food Allergy Awareness Week, people are encouraged to gain a better understanding, wear teal, the color of food allergy awareness, to show support and learn more about creating a safer environment for those with food allergies.
The campaign also stresses that people dealing with food allergies have “ingredients” within them that include more than the disease, and that they, above all else, contain courage. Andy and Owen’s mothers point out that, despite their allergies, the boys are just like any other three year old boys.
Laura described Owen as being crazy, hilarious and wild, and he enjoys doing ninja kicks and chops. Liz says Andy is very curious and inquisitive, and he loves playing golf and riding bikes.
Learn more about food allergies and Food Allergy Awareness Week at www.foodallergy.org.