Pediatric Allergies: Switzerland, Australia and the United States

I’m always eager to find new research and data on food allergies, and especially when it involves kids. This week, I came across new information about pediatric food allergies for three countries—Switzerland, Australia and the United States.

When you scroll down, you’ll see I’ve included some links to videos, including a Discovery Channel documentary on food allergies in America that came out over the weekend. These videos generally have a positive message about food allergies, but they also show interviews with people who have experienced anaphylaxis firsthand, for example. The families and their stories send a powerful message about the severity of food allergies and the daily stress that can come with managing them.


Switzerland

I’ve shared data on the prevalence of food allergies in Switzerland before, but have only recently come across an estimate specifically for children. When I emailed the aha! Swiss Allergy Centre about it, a member of their Specialist Team responded that approximately 5-8 percent of all children in Switzerland are expected to have some type of food allergy. These data come from an article published in 2005: Miles S, Fordham R, Mills ENC, Mugford M. A framework for measuring costs to society of IgE-mediated food allergy. Allergy 2005; 60: 996–1003.

From my quick scan of the article, it seems the authors base their estimate on a review of three studies from 1987, 1998 and 2002. According to the email I received from the aha! Swiss Allergy Centre, these data serve as an estimate of the proportion of children with food allergies for Europe. The Centre refers to European data because similar studies specifically for Switzerland do not exist. More data will be forthcoming as the EuroPrevall project, which includes Switzerland as a partner nation, continues to examine the prevalence, cost and basis for food allergies in Europe.


Australia

The Australian version of the television program “60 Minutes” recently did a segment on food allergies. I didn’t realize this, but Australia has one of the highest rates of food allergies among children in the world. Of children born in Australia, 1 in 10 has a food allergy. In addition, from 1993 to 2005 the number of visits to emergency rooms and hospitals for patients suffering from anaphylaxis doubled, as described during an interview with Dr. Kari Nadeau of the Stanford School of Medicine.

The video below has a brief interview with the reporter that interviewed Dr. Nadeau and a brave girl from California who was the first to successfully complete a clinical trial for patients with multiple food allergies. To view the full 13-minute segment online, click here. It has some heartbreaking stories that have really stuck with me.


United States

In the United States, it’s estimated that 1 in 13 children (or nearly 8 percent) have a food allergy, according to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE).

The Discovery Channel, through a grant from FARE and Mylan Specialty L.P., released a documentary over the weekend entitled, “An Emerging Epidemic: Food Allergies in America.” Narrated by Steve Carell, the documentary presents interviews with adults and children with food allergies, as well as parents of food-allergic children. Dr. Nadeau is also interviewed in this documentary about her clinical trial. Overall, it has a very positive and hopeful tone—much more so, in my opinion, than the “60 Minutes” segment from Australia.

What are the numbers like from your country? If you have more current data to share on food allergies in Switzerland or beyond, please let me know. I’ll continue to provides updates on new research and data, as it becomes available. Thanks!

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First Day of School 2013

Yesterday, my oldest son started his second year of school in Suisse-Romande. His younger brother that has multiple food allergies will be eligible to attend the same public school after his fourth birthday. During that time, I hope our little guy outgrows at least one of his allergies (milk, raw egg and almonds). Regardless of what happens, I have the next few years to learn as much as I can about managing food ­allergies at school.

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Food Allergies in American Classrooms

Recent data indicates that 1 in 13 American children has some type of food allergy, which could translate to about 2 students per classroom, according to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE). Luckily for parents, there are lots of existing resources out there to help prepare them and their food-allergic children for the classroom setting. Here are a few I’ve come across that look particularly good:


Food Allergies in Swiss Classrooms

I have yet to find good data on the proportion of Swiss children with food allergies, so I can’t say how the numbers compare to the United States or elsewhere. Anecdotally, based on my first year in Switzerland, food allergies just don’t seem as common. I meet fewer people with food allergies and see fewer specialty products available in stores. What does that mean for children with food allergies when they enter a Swiss classroom?

Last year, I don’t remember seeing anything in writing about food allergies from my oldest son’s school. It’s very possible his teacher mentioned allergies on the first day, but my French wasn’t good enough at that point to pick it up. My oldest son doesn’t have any food allergies, so I never pursued this topic further with his teacher.

This year, I distinctly heard my son’s new teacher mention allergies during the first-day introduction to parents. Plus, there was a brief section on allergies in a small brochure that was sent home. Essentially, from my limited French, the excerpt below means his teacher wants to know about any food allergies or other medical conditions, so the school can collaborate with parents to help ensure the child’s safety.

“Je vous serais reconnaissante de bien vouloir me signaler si votre enfant souffre d’allergies ou de troubles particuliers (prise de médicament, asthma, allergies alimentaires) afin d’assurer sa sécurité. Une bonne collaboration est importante, n’hésitez pas à nous contacter si nécessaire.” – Classroom brochure for Classe 1 et 2 HarmoS

The section in the brochure on food allergies immediately followed the section on “anniversaires” or birthdays. My son’s teacher wants to be notified of the time and date parents plan to bring in special birthday treats. Last year, I would often hear from my son how he had birthday cake at school for one of his classmates. I’m sure arrangements can be made so parents of a food-allergic child are notified when a cake is expected in class, so they could send along an allergy-friendly snack for their child to enjoy during the celebration.

Thankfully, I still have a few more years until my food-allergic son starts school, so I have plenty of time to figure things out, and work on my French! For all the parents out there, best of luck in preparing for the new school year.

Do you have children with food allergies attending school in Switzerland or elsewhere? If so, I want to hear from you! Please share your experiences and advice about preparing for a new school year by leaving a comment below or sending an email to dairyfreeswitzerland@gmail.com

Whirlwind Trip to New England

Our jet lag has nearly worn off after a whirlwind trip to New England. Two weeks just wasn’t enough to see and do everything we wanted, but we had a wonderful visit nonetheless.

To our friends and family, I want to say a big thank you for helping to accommodate our son’s food allergies during our trip. Wherever we went, I was allowed to take over the kitchen and make nearly every meal so I knew it was free of his allergens.

I’m also grateful to those of you who thoughtfully prepared allergy-friendly meals and snacks—some of which appear in the photos below. You even had ingredient lists ready to show me, so I could double-check to make sure the food was safe. Even though I love cooking, to have a break from it was such a gift.

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So Many Allergy-Friendly Products

After visiting a couple mainstream grocery stores in New England, I was amazed by all the allergy-friendly products. I never make frozen pizza in Switzerland. Our grocery stores just don’t carry dairy-free pizza. Nor do they have coconut milk yogurt or ice cream, all the various milk alternatives or dairy-free macaroni and cheese. I would need to visit multiple organic markets and websites here to try and find the same selection of products.

So, we bought a few frozen pizzas one night and had them for dinner at my sister’s place. Of the three pizzas we made, one contained dairy-free cheese. Those of us who tried it weren’t big fans, but my food-allergic son ate three pieces. In the photo below, can you tell which slice doesn’t contain milk? It felt like a small victory being able to all eat pizza together that I didn’t have to make myself!

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While grocery stores in Switzerland have a much smaller selection of allergy-friendly products in comparison to those I visited in New England, I’m curious to learn about and share more allergy-friendly Swiss companies and products. In the meantime, I need to try making coconut milk ice cream this month. I’ll share the recipe if it turns out!


Vegan Blueberry Pancakes

Another culinary highlight from our trip involved foraging for wild blueberries in New Hampshire. Our little guy enjoyed sitting among the low bushes and eating the berries as he picked them, à la Blueberries for Sal. I added these delicious little berries to a vegan pancake recipe I use when we’re traveling or short on time and ingredients. Up at the lake cabin, wild blueberry pancakes are traditional breakfast fare for my husband’s family. I took great pleasure in sharing a safe version with our son.

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Dairy-Free Switzerland has quietly joined the ranks using Twitter. If you’re looking for more food allergy info and recipes, please follow me. Thanks so much!

Food Allergy Prevalence in Switzerland

I was curious about the prevalence of food allergies here in Switzerland and Europe as a whole in comparison to the United States. Various researchers and organizations have looked at this issue, using different methods, age cohorts and time periods. This adds to the difficulty in comparing results and looking at trends over time. Overall, these data don’t seem to indicate a dramatic difference between the two countries. However, researchers have generally found growth in the proportion of children affected by food allergies and the severity of such allergies in recent years.

Here’s a quick summary of what I discovered with the caveat that I didn’t undertake an in-depth assessment of the methods used or the robustness of this research. I focused on identifying data from nationally-recognized entities and/or government-funded research.

Switzerland and Europe

  • According to the aha! Swiss Allergy Center, ­2-8 percent of the population in Switzerland has some type of food allergy. I haven’t yet come across food allergy prevalence data specific to children in Switzerland.
  • The European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) recently found that hospital admissions throughout Europe for severe allergic reactions, such as anaphylaxis, in children increased 7-fold in the last 10 years. During this same time period, EAACI also reports that the number of food allergy suffers has doubled. This organization also has a new campaign designed to increase awareness of food allergies in Europe.

    EAACI’s Food Allergy Campaign Poster

  • The EuroPrevall project—which includes Switzerland as a partner nation—is currently examining the prevalence, cost and basis for food allergies. As part of this project, researchers examined 900 published studies and generally found that 1-5 percent of the total population has a clinically-proven food allergy.

The United States

  • The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) estimates that food allergies affect approximately 4 percent of adults. In 2010, NIAID also reported that 1 in 20 young children under age 5 have some type of food allergy.
  • A 2011 study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) found that approximately 8 percent of children younger than 18 years have at least one food allergy. This study also indicated that nearly 39 percent of children with food allergies had a history of “severe food-induced reactions.”
  • In terms of growth, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that from 1997 to 2007, the prevalence of food allergies increased 18 percent among children under 18 years of age.

Increase in Food Allergies and Quality of Life

When I was growing up, to the best of my knowledge, none of my childhood classmates had severe food allergies. Today, a number of my friends have children with one or more food allergies, and these parents are invaluable resources for information and support. Therefore, these data support my own experiences and that of my peers—food allergies just seem more common nowadays.

Looking beyond the numbers, what I found most disturbing as a parent of a child with food allergies is that the 2011 AAP study cited past research associating food allergies with “impaired quality of life” and “limited social interactions.” While the increased prevalence of food allergies has made it easier for families like ours to manage our son’s multiple allergies, we still face challenges.

Luckily, my son will outgrow most, if not all of his allergies. We just have to be patient. In the meantime, I am constantly working to minimize the impact of food allergies on his daily life, so he can continue to enjoy nearly the same options and experiences as his older brother.

As such, future recipes here may include allergy-friendly baguettes and maybe even croissants or pain du chocolat (my husband may need to help with these…).