OAK PARK – First Lady Patti Blagojevich today announced that Illinois schools will now be better equipped to prevent potentially life threatening food allergy reactions in children. The First Lady launched a new awareness campaign targeted at educating school personnel and students on the dangers of food allergies. Working with The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), the state will offer food allergy educational kits to the approximately 5,000 K-12 schools and licensed child-care centers in Illinois. The kits will help schools keep kids with food allergies safe from reactions. Illinois becomes the first state in the nation to offer a statewide food allergy educational program.
According to FAAN, peanut allergy in children has doubled in the past five years, and the estimated number of Americans with food allergy has increased from 6 million to approximately 11 million. With reports of increased food allergy issues, the First Lady urged parents and school personnel to become better educated on how to identify and avoid the potentially life threatening effects of food allergies.
“I know parents of children with food allergies worry every day about what their children eat. I know because one of my daughters, Annie, is severely allergic to dairy products and peanuts. As a mother who also has the benefit of being the First Lady, I want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to give the people responsible for feeding our children in school the information and prevention methods they need to keep kids with food allergies safe,” said Mrs. Blagojevich.
According to FAAN, more than 11 million Americans have food allergies and approximately three million children under the age of 18 years old, or 1-in-25 American children, have a food allergy. There is no cure for food allergies, so individuals must be mindful and avoid foods that pose a health risk. Although an individual can be allergic to any type of food, eight foods account for 90 percent of all food-allergic reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (walnut, cashew, etc.), fish, shell fish, soy and wheat.
The kits distributed to schools will include “The School Food Allergy Program,” a multi-media training guide created by FAAN which will help school personnel develop a comprehensive plan specifically geared towards successful management of food allergies in their schools.
“Illinois is leading the nation and is setting the example of how all schools nationwide should approach the safety of its students. It is FAAN’s hope that many more states follow Illinois,” said Anne Munoz-Furlong, Founder & CEO of FAAN. “There is a need, now more than ever, for standardized training programs for school staff to address this growing public health and food safety issue.”
FAAN encourages school administrators to remember their ABCs when instituting a food allergy school safety plan:
A – Advance planning. Schedule a meeting with school staff and the parents of the food allergic student to discuss the student’s food allergy.
B – Be a PAL. Educate other students about food allergies and help them learn how to help friends that have food allergies. Teach students the five steps to being a PAL: (1) Recognize that food allergies can be very serious and shouldn’t be taken lightly; (2) Don’t share food; (3) Wash hands after eating; (4) Find out what your friends are allergic to and help them to avoid it; and (5) Get help immediately if a schoolmate has a reaction.
C – Create a safe environment. Schools need to create a safe environment by minimizing risk and developing an emergency response plan should an allergic reaction occur.
Beginning today, letters will be mailed to Illinois schools encouraging school personnel to order their educational kit. The distribution of the kits will come at no cost to the state or local schools, and has been underwritten by a generous private donation. Schools that are interested in obtaining the free training guide should contact FAAN at 1-800-929-4040 or via the web at www.foodallergy.org.