"Nut Allergy" Fear and Overreaction
Professor Nicolas Christakis, a professor of medical sociology at Harvard Medical School, told the BMJ there was “a gross over-reaction to the magnitude of the threat” posed by food allergies, and particularly nut allergies.
In the US, serious allergic reactions to foods cause just 2,000 of more than 30 million hospitalisations a year and comparatively few deaths—150 a year from all food allergies combined.
In the UK there are around 10 deaths each year from food allergies.
Professor Christakis said the issue was not whether nut allergies existed or whether they could occasionally be serious. Nor was the issue whether reasonable preventative steps should be made for the few children who had documented serious allergies, he argued.
“The issue is what accounts for the extreme responses to nut allergies.”
He said the number of US schools declaring themselves to be entirely “nut free”—banning staples like peanut butter, homemade baked goods and any foods without detailed ingredient labels—was rising, despite clear evidence that such restrictions were unnecessary.
“School entrances have signs admonishing visitors to wash their hands before entry to avoid [nut] contamination.”
He said these responses were extreme and had many of the hallmarks of mass psychogenic illness (MPI), previously known as epidemic hysteria.