For food-allergic kids, parents and schools step up

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health finds one-quarter of parents know a child with a life-threatening food allergy, most not bothered by special accommodations

Members of the Michos family have adjusted to having food allergies by switching from cow's milk to soy milk. From left: Sisters Zoë Michos, 6, and Alena Michos, 4; and their cousin Niko Michos, 3. Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services

ANN ARBOR, Mich.-According to the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, 3 percent of households in the United States are affected by a life-threatening food allergy, yet little is known about the experiences of average families related to food allergies, what schools are doing to manage the problem, or how accepting parents are of the special accommodations schools must make to protect food-allergic children.

The National Poll on Children's Health asked parents with children, ages 0 - 13, about food allergies and what their children's daycares, preschools and elementary schools are doing to accommodate food-allergic children. 
"About a quarter of parents know at least one child with a life-threatening food allergy in their own child's daycare or elementary school, and about three-quarters of these parents say their child's school or daycare is making some sort of accommodations," says Harvey L. Leo, M.D., adjunct clinical associate of pediatrics and assistant research scientist at the University of Michigan Center for Managing Chronic Disease in the School of Public Health. "But most importantly, about one half of parents without a food-allergic child don't find those accommodations to be terribly inconvenient."
The most common accommodation for food-allergic children, according to the poll, is a ban on food or treats brought from home. Nearly two-thirds of parents report their child's daycare or preschool (63 percent) has this policy, while one-half indicate their child's elementary school has this policy.
Other accommodations include posted or required food allergy plans, separate eating areas for food-allergic children, and special classroom assignments. About one-half of parents report their children's elementary schools, daycares or preschools also have staff training specifically for food allergies.
"As much as we're asking families to make accommodations, it's important to know that the majority of parents are willing to make those accommodations for their children, and for the safety of other children," Leo says. "In the past, these accommodations have been controversial for many parents because they are seen as limiting and frustrating for parents of non-food-allergic children."
The poll also finds:
  • Among families with food-allergic children, half believe others at school accommodate their child's life-threatening food allergy "very well;" while 44 percent say "somewhat" accommodated.
  • About one quarter of parents without food-allergic children find accommodations with food or handling of food to be "somewhat" inconvenient, and only 5 percent find it "very inconvenient."
While one-half of parents are accepting of food allergy accommodations in the school setting, nearly one-third are less comfortable with these accommodations. This raises concerns for educators, clinicians and policymakers about potential obstacles to expanding accommodations to other child care and school settings that have not yet adopted them, Leo says.
For its report, the National Poll on Children's Health used data from a national online survey conducted in August 2008 in collaboration with Knowledge Networks, Inc. The survey was administered to a random sample of 1,552 parents aged 18 and older, who are a part of Knowledge Network's online KnowledgePanel®U.S. population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 to 7 percentage points, depending on the question.  For results based on subgroups, the margin of error is higher. To learn more about Knowledge Networks, visit
The C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health - funded by the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases and part of the CHEAR Unit at the U-M Health System - is designed to measure major health care issues and trends for U.S. children.

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