National allergy guidelines for schools call for end to food bans

Melissa IariaNCA NewsWire
Blanket school bans on foods such as nuts do not work, experts say.
Camera IconBlanket school bans on foods such as nuts do not work, experts say. Credit: istock

School bans on foods such as nuts don’t work, say allergy experts who have unveiled new guidelines to combat a rapid rise in allergic reactions among Australian children.

The National Allergy Strategy released the guidelines on Thursday to give schools and children’s education and care services clarity on allergies and anaphylaxis.

One in 20 Australian children aged between 10-14 years has a food allergy, while food-induced anaphylaxis — the most severe form of allergic reaction — has risen rapidly over the past decade.

The new National Allergy Strategy guidelines say an “allergy aware” approach is favoured over schools prohibiting certain foods.

“It is NOT recommended that schools ‘ban’ food and as such schools should not claim to be free of any allergen, for example, ‘nut free’,” the new guidelines say.

Blanket school bans on foods such as nuts do not work, experts say.
Camera IconBlanket school bans on foods such as nuts do not work, experts say. Credit: istock

Instead, the rules recommend focusing on strategies to minimise the risk of anaphylaxis.

Allergy specialist and National Allergy Strategy co-chair Dr Preeti Joshi said blanket bans on certain foods such as nuts fail to prevent them from entering schools.

“Trying to completely ban food allergens in these settings simply does not work and is near impossible to enforce,” she said.

“It is not safe or practical to rely on people to not bring food allergens, of which there are many, into a certain environment.”

Dr Joshi said a consistent approach with age-appropriate strategies is better so everyone knows what is appropriate and reasonable.

These include ensuring staff have adequate training and can quickly recognise and treat an allergic reaction, including anaphylaxis.

School Days
Camera IconOne in 20 Australian children aged between 10-14 years has a food allergy. iStock image Credit: Supplied

“Things such as timely administration of adrenaline and correct positioning of the person experiencing anaphylaxis are key factors that can potentially save lives,” she said.

Co-chair of the National Allergy Strategy and Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia CEO, Maria Said, said the guidelines were “much needed”.

“The reality is that severe allergy and the risk of anaphylaxis is common in the school and children’s education and care settings,” she said.

“Children with known allergies that are at risk of anaphylaxis may have severe reactions, but they can also occur in children not previously known to be at risk of anaphylaxis.”

Food Allergy
Camera IconVariations in school policies place children’s safety at risk, allergy experts say. Credit: Supplied

It is not mandatory to report allergy incidents in Australian schools and childcare services.

There is also no national mandated approach in training staff to prevent, recognise and provide emergency treatment for anaphylaxis.

School policies across states and territories also differ, meaning there are inconsistencies in prevention and emergency treatment.

“These variations create confusion and anxiety for parents and educators in schools, and ultimately put children’s safety at risk,” Ms Said added.

“While the sectors have a lot of demands on them, no one wants to live with a tragic incident that could have been prevented.”

Originally published as National allergy guidelines for schools call for end to food bans

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