Joel Stein: "Nut allergies -- a Yuppie invention"

Joel Stein wrote an opinion piece for the LA Times alleging that nut allergies are, by and large, a Yuppie invention.
Your kid doesn't have an allergy to nuts. Your kid has a parent who needs to feel special. Your kid also spends recess running and screaming, "No! Stop! Don't rub my head with peanut butter!"

Yes, a tiny number of kids have severe peanut allergies that cause anaphylactic shock, and all their teachers should be warned, handed EpiPens and given a really expensive gift at Christmas. But unless you're a character on "Heroes," genes don't mutate fast enough to have caused an 18% increase in childhood food allergies between 1997 and 2007. And genes certainly don't cause 25% of parents to believe that their kids have food allergies, when 4% do. Yuppiedom does.

I wonder if he would have written this piece had he witnessed a child go into anaphylactic shock, as my daughter did when she ate a cookie with hidden nuts in it. It was very scary.

Nut allergies -- a Yuppie invention


  1. Adrian Tomine has a funny piece in one of the older issues of Optic Nerve about growing up being allergic to peanut butter…

    I never knew anyone was allergic to peanuts before I read that comic.

  2. Not that I doubt its existence…but I’ve wondered myself why I was in my thirties before I’d ever heard of some similar conditions like “lactose intolerant” or “restless leg syndrome”.

    Any 40 plus Boingers have similar comparisons?

  3. Allergies can be exagerrated sure, but why not err on the side of safety instead of death?

    My brother has developed a severe allergic reaction to peanuts; he’s in his 40’s.

    The type of attitude present in this article is what causes him to go the hospital several times a year because people simply do not believe that he is allergic, and so they either do not take the care that they should or they “test” him. Infuriating.

  4. So, if I read him correctly, he says, “your kid doesn’t have a nut allergy– unless s/he DOES have a nut allergy”. What an assbolt. And how, by the way does Mr. Immunologist know how fast genes “mutate”? Double assbolt.

  5. Wow, that’s sad. I’m not sure why people pay Stein to write things. He’s by and large not particularly funny. Certainly not funny enough to teach a class about writing funny things.

    I really hope he writes something funny one day. That would be a nice step forward for him. You can do it, Joel! We believe in you! Well, not really, but sure, why not?

  6. Oh, Mark! She was faking it so she could get a pony for her birthday.

    Just like those lazy slobs who complain about “kidney failure” so they can get free taxi rides and have carefree chit-chats with their friends during so-called “dialysis.”

  7. Or watched my face swell to the size of a basketball (not my whole head, just my face) after I ate some hazelnuts, which I’d previously eaten with no ill effects, but mysteriously developed an allergy to.

    Yeah, some yuppie parents are freaky. But the fact is, they also protect their kids from exposure to so many things, it wouldn’t surprise me if some of those kids’ immune systems become hypersensitive and develop more allergies than they would without helicopter parents. That could account for the increase in allergies—real allergies, like your daughters—without any change in genes.

    Guy doesn’t know shit about allergies, that’s for sure. What a jerrock.

    And I’ve BEEN in anaphylactic shock (from a different allergen). It’s no fun from inside either.

  8. Arg. I meant “daughter’s” not “daughters.” I don’t know if you even have more than one, and if you do I certainly don’t think they’re “real allergies,” though they may have some!

  9. This is one of those horrible topics where there has been a large over-response/reaction to the problem at hand…yet the problem does exist. Terrorism is real…but the TSA is messed up. Peanut allergies are real…but banning pb&j’s in elementary schools is kind of weird.
    These issues sure aren’t amusing when they hit home though.

  10. Oh, and lest I forget: the feeling a parent gets when the kid goes into anaphylactic shock is anything BUT “special”. Dipshit.

  11. I think a better rant might have been: what nasty man-made factors are causing a spike in food “allergies”? Pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, genetic engineering, prescription medication, etc. all could be leading to allergy-like symptoms in certain people when they eat certain foods. That worries me a lot more than over-protective yuppie parents, who can be pretty easily ignored.

  12. I’m a med student, and I’m sick and tired of journalists thinking they’re doctors. This guy was a sports editor before this gig.

    Studies say allergies are on the rise. Nobody trusts studies anymore, but if we can’t trust them over this guy then we can’t function.

    ]4 in 100 is pretty significant. Out of my old high school of 1400 students, that’s 30 serious conditions the nurse had to manage.

  13. I don’t think it’s a yuppie invention per se (cloistering your kids causes other problems I’m sure), but I am curious why there didn’t seem to be such widespread nut allergies until fairly recently. No one in my elementary school was allergic to nuts (milk yes, nuts no). By my senior year in high school (1994) some of those same kids were. What happened to the nuts?

  14. That’s some pretty weak speculation wrapped up in a veneer of fake science. No one has a clue why allergies (and asthma, and genera atopy) have risen, but it probably has something to do with lifestyle or environment factors in the countries where rates have risen. That genetics hand-waving is malarky.

  15. Allergies can be brought on by environment as well. This author really needs to do some basic research before declaring things as made up.

  16. Fortunately, his blithe assumption that genes are the only thing influencing allergies makes it easy to ignore him.

    (He may well be right about nut allergies being more common among the children of upper-class parents, but environmental factors — overclean homes, reluctance to introduce children to nuts, etc., etc. — could account for that.)

  17. “What happened to the nuts?”

    The NUTRAGEOUSness went right to their nubs and they became mad with power?

  18. Reminds me of Denis Leary’s idotic rant about autism. The same brand of Fox-Newsy “common sense”…

  19. Sympathies all around but that doesn’t tackle the question of what is the best social action to take. I have a friend with deadly nut allergies (I mean deadly) so I’m concerned about her, which leads me to ask what is the best thing to do. Fortunately there are scientists and researchers asking these questions (and not just concerned friends, parents and politicians).

    From the New York Times: “Dr. Christakis notes that while it’s reasonable for schools and parents to take basic precautions, there is no scientific evidence that nut bans are particularly effective at protecting children. But more important, he argues, is that limiting widespread exposure to nuts can make things worse. The “policy of avoidance” means that fewer children are being exposed to nuts, likely increasing their risk for developing an allergy. A 2008 study in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology of 10,000 British children found that early exposure to peanuts lowers risk of allergy, rather than increasing it.”

  20. Actually, why can’t both things be true–that your child has an allergy AND that there are questions about whether there really has been a spectacular increase in nut allergies among children?

  21. Is it possible that another reason for the increase is that kids are getting diagnosed with allergies rather than dying of them at young ages?

  22. I’m sure he wouldn’t have, but equally that’s not a fair criticism of the article, in much the same way as saying a journalist wouldn’t claim that air travel was still safe had he been in New York on September 11th, 2001 isn’t a fair criticism of that claim.

    This isn’t to deny the existence of severe nut allergies, but I, too, wonder how they’ve more recently risen to such prominence.

  23. Okay, I know everyone’s jumping on this one, but here’s my voice in the crowd:

    I have a friend who knows when peanuts are in the room, because suddenly he can’t breathe. I have an uncle who almost died until they discovered that he had become allergic to grains.

    And then, I have three young, wonderful, homeschooled cousins who can’t be around milk because their mother believes that they’re lactose intolerant and should only drink soy. Of course, whipped cream, ice cream, and chocolate milk are all fine and enjoyed on a regular basis in their household. It’s… amusing.

  24. I apologize for going anonymous – I am registered, but I’m not comfortable using my tag here.

    Allergists (I’m not one but know several professionally) will admit under duress that the strategy of keeping kids from nuts until 2-3 years old has almost certainly increased the incidence of nut allergies. The advice (endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics) runs counter to everything we know about how allergies develop. (I believe this to the extent that I allowed my son to try nut-based foods when he was a one-year-old, although you’d better believe I watched him like a hawk.)

    Every pediatrician has a story about the kid whose blood work indicates nuts will kill him and comes back for a second visit eating a snickers. Built up tolerance plays a role, and regular exposure helps. Some of these kids are told to stop immediately, despite the fact that they’re fine and have had regular exposure, and then a year later are exposed to nuts and go into shock. There’s a definite analogy to the Hygiene Hypothesis – which states that hypercleanliness, antibacterial soap, and lack of playing outside for young kids has led to a rise in asthma later in childhood.

    It’s a touchy subject. How the AAP will gently back down from their possibly harmful no-exposure recommendation will be interesting to watch.

  25. If we all forced our children to eat a bit of poo and radium in the morning there’d be no allergies.

    It’s how we defeated communism, don’t ya know?

  26. #13 nailed (part of) it. I, too, subscribe to food growing, cultivation & prep as factors in the increase in nut allergies. Supposedly China has no such spike since they boil peanuts as opposed to roast them, but this may be anecdotal as they have much less access to advanced medical/allergy care.

    Also, in case no one noticed, wealthy people can afford to take their kids to allergy clinics, thus, more rich kids = more allergies. Duh.

    When I had allergy tests as a kid, it was a hugely expensive, painful and overall miserable procedure. My son has it done in a relatively painless 20 minutes, so I think efficient and cheaper diagnosis plays a big part in the recognition of the allergies.

    My son also has the nut allergy, and I don’t care to ever see him go into AS. This “writer” is a clueless fuck-nut of the highest degree.

  27. Regarding comments about not seeing this 30 years ago:

    I’ve read that this has been caused by the fact that kids are often not exposed to peanuts as infants because parents are afraid they may have an allergy. Not being exposed to them, they have not developed the antibodies (or histamines or something like that) to fight them off.

    I’ve also heard opinions, that the peanut reaction is due to our over-cleanliness as a society. Our immune systems as children were design to create antibodies/histamines/etc to all the diseases/etc so that we can survive later in life. Now that we are an anti-bacterial society, the immune system is attacking things incorrectly out of, for lack of a better term, boredom.

  28. As a parent in and out of the DC public school I can only say this…

    The more I pay for the school, the more more affulent the parents… the stricter the rules about nuts at school. Currenly at a bi-lingual IB school that has a ban on all nuts. The issue was never mentioned at the local public school, or the near by CAPCS charter school.

    My favorite part is that it really bothers myself and my wife… but my son think soy butter tastes fine and has never complained once.

  29. It’s sort of a yuppie invention in that you seem to create the problem by raising your children in a too-sterile environment, including not exposing them to peanuts. But you certainly can’t deny the kids are deadly allergic at this point, whatever caused it. And who even knows why he thinks it’s genetic.

  30. Why does he think gene mutations is the only thing that could cause a rise in nut allergies? There could be a number of other reasons.

  31. I was also annoyed at this article, until I read this line:
    That’s because scientists believe in rigorous study and proof, while opinion columnists believe in saying something outrageous to get attention.

    That to me sounds like a polite way of saying he came up short on content this week. Not good, not an apology, but definitely an explanation for the article.

  32. This guy ever consider it might be triggered by environmental contaminants? We dump, spew and generally pollute enough whoknowswhat into the air water and soil.

    There’s a LOT of things that we didn’t used to have. And there are a lot of allergies that can come on or go away at different periods in life.

    If an allergy test says the kid is allergic to peanuts, who is this doofus to say otherwise?

  33. I’ve stood next to my best friend and commanded her to breathe as she tries to consume Benadryl to fight off peanut-induced anaphylactic shock. I’ve also had to catch her and half carry her to the nurse’s office. I’ve been instructed in the use of Epi-Pens, and gotten so used to her allergy that I automatically avoid bringing certain foods into rooms she’ll be in, checking ingredients labels to see if she can eat something, and can smell peanuts in a room almost as well as she can. Of course, I’m smelling them, she’s beginning to feel like she’s choking from the peanutty dust.

    Ha. Considering she went to the hospital and almost died from the last event- they get worse each time- I’m in the eff you, ‘these allergies are rarely real’ crowd.

    But then of course I have several friends with disorders in the autism-spectrum, grew up with asthma, and my cousin has a genuine case of ADD- he grew up in the backwoods, spends all his time playing and fighting, so it certainly isn’t lack of stimulation, and nevertheless, can’t keep focus on half his games for more than a half hour (and gets twitchy in the mean time.)

    So I have no patience for any of this ‘man up, in my day we had to walk fifteen miles through peanut factories to get to school’ tripe.

  34. Marc is very gracious in his personal anecdote about his daughter following the blurb about Joel Stein. It must have been horrifying. Allow me as an enraged parent of an allergic child (and a former allergic kid) to be the bad cop here. While I have not had to suffer my child going into full A shock, the real pain and anxiety this actual health problem causes to many kids is reason enough to comment. And yes, I am kicking myself that I will not ever get back this fifteen minute eddy on the river of my day but as a professional writer, I must say something about the Douschebag Industrial Complex of which Mr. Stein is a rising star. With no discernable skills as a writer, despite numerous forays into sitcoms, columns, and what nots, Mr. Stein searches for revelance. As the former Wunderkind at Time (or is he still there? Or does anyone under 55 read it?) he sold himself to the editorial greybeards as the “voice of a generation” ™ when the most interesting thing about his tenure there was the adorably annoying caricature of him as some Gen- X Tamagochi that was fed by how many google hits he warranted. Let me use his words which put it best (and in precious post modern fashion allows him to Dousche with a wink): “Opinion columnists believe in saying something outrageous to get attention.” No shit. Please stop contributing to the noise and go build a house for someone. As far as “strange how peanut allergies are only an issue in rich, lefty areas” Again, no shit. That’s exactly where it is a problem, where we all did what we were told and washed our hands and told the kids not to eat dirt. With no exposure to germs (as in un-rich righty neighborhoods like Africa and Asia), young active immune systems over-react (kind of like aggravated parents, touche/douche) when given nothing to do. They attack the only thing left to them, healthy tissue. They create conflict where there is none. Just like Joel Stein.

  35. Of course, the Mind and Body are One. Did you know that people with Dissociative Identity Disorder sometimes have different allergies depending on which personality is active? And we’re talking eat strawberries with no ill effects, change personalities and get hives from the strawberries you ate before, change back and the hives fade away.

    My point: even if something started in the mind, that doesn’t mean it can’t be fully real now, or that it can’t kill a child.

  36. Wow, this is deeply uninformed. Who said allergies are genetic? How hard is it to find out about the hygiene hypothesis?

    Very easily, actually. When I was a reporter fresh out of college six years ago, I did a story about nut allergies for a local newspaper, talked to a parent of a child with a severe peanut allergies, she direct me to her allergist, who brought it up immediately. I was a very green reporter, and I came across explanations that weren’t genetic. This is just sad.

    The fact is that school-age children right now are the very first generation to have grown up with pervasive anti-bacterial soap. It’s possible that our immune systems are going crazy because we’re just too clean now. I’m not saying it’s proven, I’m saying that whatever specious arguments he has to make about the speed of mutation (!) are missing the point by so wide a margin that it’s hard to respond to.

  37. For all the stock Stein claims to put in science, when it comes to the incidence of allergies in the developing world he’s overlooked a pretty straightforward alternative to his “Boy-Named-Sue” hypothesis.

    Certain disease agents common in poor countries–parasites, in particular–disarm the immune system in such a way as to prevent allergic reactions. Since most humans probably grew up exposed to these parasites in our ancestral environment, it’s possible that improved medical care in rich countries has resulted in rising allergy rates.

    There are loads of “rigorous” scientific types studying the mechanism right now, in hopes of finding a safe way to reproduce it in allergy sufferers.

  38. Although he says it extremely inarticulately, I do think there’s merit to the idea that we take on conditions that are to some degree ‘fashionable.’

    A good example of this is ‘Windigo Psychosis,’ discussed here:

    It’s a Native American mental illness in which the person gradually becomes depressed and reclusive, believes they’ve been possessed by a spirit, hallucinates that people are animals, and then kills and eats them.

    I mention it for two reasons. First, only people that have ever heard of Windigo Psychosis get it. If it’s not part of your culture, you don’t get it. You literally have to be taught what it is to be affected, and believe it exists.

    Second, the effects are pretty damn severe. People might say things like ‘your body can’t will itself into anaphylactic shock just to be fashionable,’ but they might also say that you can’t just purposefully hallucinate that your mother is a beaver. Minds are powerful, and people care a lot about doing what they’re supposed to.

    What I’m saying is not that real allergies don’t exist, but that there’s plenty of reasons one might have an allergy, and status might be one of them. If mom cares more when you’re writhing in pain, your body might oblige more willingly. And there’s no reason you couldn’t get genuine allergic reactions out of the deal – just because you don’t CONSCIOUSLY register peanut oil doesn’t mean you’re not detecting it on some level.

    To close, I believe there’s merit to the idea that such allergies can be conditioned and coached by one’s environment and culture. Further, just because there are observable (and real!) symptoms doesn’t mean the allergy wasn’t conditioned to occur. Genuine anaphylaxis doesn’t automatically rule out a psychosomatic reaction.

  39. I found out my daughter was allergic to nuts (tree nuts, not peanuts) when she broke out in hives from head to toe, her face swelled up, and her windpipe closed to the point she almost stopped breathing. all after eating some mixed nuts.

    My home is far from sterile, and we were never terribly picky about what she ate. Plus, she was breast fed as an infant.

    You can’t fake RAST IgE tests.

  40. Another point about this article: allergies are almost never genetic, they’re environmental.

  41. genes don’t mutate fast enough to have caused an 18% increase in childhood food allergies between 1997 and 2007.

    And Allergies aren’t totally genetic. Duh.

  42. My dad also thought his diagnosis of nut allergy was bunkus and we ended up taking him to the emergency about 4X.

  43. Did you not read the article?

    The second paragraph starts: “Yes, a tiny number of kids have severe peanut allergies that cause anaphylactic shock, and all their teachers should be warned, handed EpiPens and given a really expensive gift at Christmas.”

    So, does your child’s teacher have an EpiPen and a Christmas gift?

  44. The author of the article here makes a point I’ve often bitched about: the entire North American population has suddenly become allergic to damned near everything. Either we’ve mutated or we are misdiagnosing.

    Yes, some tiny percentage of people are born allergic, and many of them build up a tolerance through exposure — which we are trying to prevent, no? Zero risk at any cost.

    And to answer a previous poster’s question: no, I do not recall ANY kids being allergic to all the current terror materials when I was a kid. I don’t even recall anyone having an asthma attack in all my years at elementary school. We were all poor, and we had not the years of terror and peer pressure that, yes, yuppie parents have undergone.

    I subscribe to the hypothesis that well-off children are raised in low-germ environments with filtered water and air. They don’t walk outside, don’t mingle with large crowds, eat carefully pasteurized and germ-free food, and yet paradoxically are sealed into homes and schools with forced air cooling and heating.

    These kids have grown into bubble-children, with compromised and underutilized immune systems. That coupled with unknown mutations from the materials floating about in their sealed air environments, diet coke, and limitless chemicals never before encountered by a human metabolism.

    Check out the book that inspired Mike Moore to make “Bowling at Columbine”.

    The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things

  45. my theory is that the rise of toxins and heavy metals in the environment makes people more susceptible to allergies. Increasing polluted environment explains the severe rise of allergies in recent years.

  46. FWIW, I awoke in the middle of the night once with my face swollen and my throat closed up so that I could just barely breathe. By the time I got to the hospital it had subsided. The doctor thought it may have been an alergic reaction to something, but I hadn’t ingested anything for hours and hours beforehand.

    So yes I think that people have (and develop) severe alergic reactions, but I don’t think the cause is always known or properly correlated. Someone might eat a peanut butter cookie and then have a reaction like this. Diagnosis: peanut allergy, so that person avoids peanuts for the rest of his life. With kids, it’s best to err on the safe side, but I’ve got relatives who have went to allergy specialists who have told them they were allergic to wheat, nuts, grass, berries, oats, and dozens of other random things. Either the definition has been changed or these people are quacks. None of these people with severe allergies have *ever* had an allergic reaction to anything (other than hayfever and that’s more of a physiological reaction from what I understand).

  47. I think CNOOCY (#22) has part of it. It’s very likely that the reason we see this is because of the advances in the medical field.

    It’s also partly because many parents today shelter their kids from everything (overclean homes, air conditioning, kids don’t play outside as much, etc).

    However, I can’t believe that this is the entire reason for this increase in food allergies (pollen, dust, pets, etc. fit the second reason, but not food). I honestly don’t know what it is. I know it exists. My cousin-in-law’s husband is deathly (literally) allergic to nuts and chocolate to the point where he can’t even touch you if you’ve touched either of them, but he can be in the same room. He’s in his 30’s. Very few people had these types of allergies when I was growing up (I’m 29). I heard of people allergic to chocolate, but never nuts. I was eating peanut butter for as long as I can remember.

    Perhaps this guy’s tone was a bit mean, but he does have a valid question.

  48. Oh. My point?

    I think some genetic damage is being done – the low sperm counts and woundrous cancers popping up are certainly caused by any of the hundreds of thousands of chemicals and their recombinations that never have existed in nature before we put them there.

    But the allergies… too quick to arise, too concentrated in the yuppie burbclaves… I’m skeptical. And the poster about who posited the Wendigo syndrome: brilliant, sir.

  49. I thought it possible (though unlikely) that Mark was overstating the stupidity of the column he linked to. So I read it, and discovered Mark was overly kind.

    Clearly, the fellow has no children and has never been exposed to children.

    @35: that’s a perfectly reasonable thesis, and it’s true that there are conditions in one culture that appear physiological in nature (Oliver Sacks documents some in his various books) and must be psychological in origin because they appear only in one culture.

    But, @35, pre-verbal kids aren’t that way, and neither are toddlers and young children. The peanut allergies that most parents terrifyingly witness can occur at first or second exposures; can happen when the concentration of nut proteins is nearly untestable; and can happen when children are too young to have any sense or descriptive ability of what is what. It’s thus easy to disprove your thought experiment for the group most likely to be experiencing this allergy.

    In the child care center my two children attend, there are various allergies present. I know people with difficult to fatal basil, nut, and wheat allergies. None of the people I grew up with had any of these–maybe one kid in elementary school had a nut allergy and it was the weirdest thing in the world to students and parents.

    Clearly, it’s not genetic; clearly, it’s environmental; no one I have ever read has suggested that genes are involved (except in the notion that has gained popularity that gene expression can be environmentally caused rather than teratogenic).

    I don’t know what kind of ass-hat planet Joel Stein comes there, but I proposing raising a collection to get the rocket ship fueled up to send him back there.

    Is the LA Times this close to its expiration date that they’re running columns like this?

  50. If you’re paying attention to Joel Stein, let alone giving him publicity, the terrorists have won.

  51. freddie, i must differ with your assessment. all the males in my family are allergic to cats. my father is , his father and brothers were. my male cousins, my brother and his son are. how can this be environmental?

  52. Well, we’ve heard from the “corporations are causing allergies” people. I think it’s about time the “free range kid” contingent have had their say.

  53. If someone wrote an article claiming that only 4% of redheads are natural, while 25% of the population dye their hair red, it proves exactly nothing for me to say, “What a jerk, because my hair really is naturally red.”

    Individual testimonials neither prove nor refute anything.

  54. catbeller at 41: I don’t even recall anyone having an asthma attack in all my years at elementary school.

    Well, there’s one data point. Here’s another: my mother had asthma — including asthma attacks — from about age 10 on.

    That means she started getting them in 1950.

    I don’t know how old you are, but unless you were born before 1940, this isn’t something new since your schooldays.

    I think it’s probably confirmation bias, myownself. There’s no particular reason you would have paid any attention to whether anybody had asthma if it didn’t affect you or one of your immediate friends, so if somebody else at your school did have asthma, you wouldn’t have noticed. Hell, I don’t remember anybody in my elementary, junior high, or high school having an asthma attack, and I did have a reason to pay attention.

  55. > I’m a med student, and I’m sick and tired of journalists thinking they’re doctors.
    > 4 in 100 is pretty significant. Out of my old high school of 1400 students, that’s 30 serious conditions the nurse had to manage.

    I’m a medical researcher and I’m sick and tired of medical students thinking they understand percentages. ;)

    4/100 * 1400 = 56 serious conditions.

  56. Joel Stein’s like the John C. Dvorak of the social commentary world – push the button and he says OUTRAGEOUS random crap to get attention!
    Rule two : REFER TO RULE ONE.

    I don’t think I’ve yet read a column by him that DIDN’T make my hands itch for a folding chair to throw.

    (And yet I went to read the damn article.)

  57. He’s assuming that food alergies are caused solely by genetic mutation, and that’s a false assumption.

  58. I know a few primary teachers, and have heard of kids who believe that they have allergies that actually don’t. The example I can remember offhand is kid whose parents had convinced him that he was lactose intolerant. If the kid had a few mouthfuls of milkshale from a friend, he’d quickly complain of feeling ill, and genuinely seem to mean it. A couple of times he ate some of a friend’s yoghurt or ice-cream (out of view of teachers who otherwise would’ve stopped him) and was fine for a few hours until told that they had contained milk. Then he’d immediately complain of feeling ill and, again, genuinely seem to mean it after a while. Psychosomatic stomach ache, if that’s possible?

    There are also a few examples of kids diagnosed with ADD and medicated accordingly who aren’t ill, just badly behaved: one, for example, had latched on to the idea that his morning dose worked until the end of lunchtime. He’d behave well all morning and lunchtime, then *the instant* the bell rang to signal the end of lunch, start acting up until his next dose, which would calm him down *immediately*, much faster than a drug could possibly take effect. This kid — among others — was obviously just responding to a placebo effect.

    So I’d say the truth is somewhere in the middle: allergies and behavioural problems are very real, very important and may be on the rise. But there are undoubtedly also plenty of cases where anxious, over-protective or drama-queen parents exacerbate minor problems or even invent them where they simply don’t exist.

    @minTphresh (#47)
    “Genuine anaphylaxis doesn’t automatically rule out a psychosomatic reaction.”
    That’s fascinating – I’ve heard of relatively simple things like a weak rash coming from a psychosomatic reaction, but never severe stuff like anaphylactic shock or other immune problems (although I think depression can lead to immunosuppression?). Can you cite a source? I’d love to read up on that.

  59. I always thought I was the only one who loathed Joel Stein. This current piece sums up all that is wrong with him. He’s borrowing someone else’s riff (Leary), he’s making outrageous claims on one hand but then poo-pooing that he’s just silly columnist. Oh, and as other’s have noticed — not funny. Funnier than Stein is even Stuart Schlossmen, who is my friend, and is eleven, and puts walnuts in his mouth and makes noises.

  60. One swallow does not make a Spring, etc.. Asshole-like rhetoric aside the science on this is clearly on the side of the skeptics. In the same way that scientific analysis cannot find a causal connection between immunizations and autism, it cannot support the notion of wide-spread, deadly childhood allergies.

    With that, deepest sympathy to Mark’s daughter and family and best of luck.

  61. One of those things you hear, but no longer remember where it was heard, was maybe there were a lot of kids with allergies, but they died young.

  62. My sisters were mildly allergic to cat hair. My parents looked at purchasing a couple hairless cats to accommodate my them but it would have been far too costly.

    We wound up getting two, plain old cats. Now, their allergic reaction was fairly mild in the first place but after a couple years, it went away completely.

  63. I’ve heard that the rise in severe allergies is related to the rise in use of antibiotic… everything. Antibiotics carry two potential problems: One, that it encourages the growth of antibiotic resistant germs, and two, that it leaves our immune system with too little to do.

    The study I heard (sorry, no source, but google could probably help) said that children who are sick less often as children are more likely to have severe allergies as adults.

    Thank god I was a dirty child!

  64. This article is terrible. How this make Boing Boing?

    I once had someone tell me that allergies were all in my head. Next time I was with them, they offered me cookies. I ate one. My lips began swelling, I went into shock and had to goto the hospital for treatment. They later admitted to secretly putting in nut flower to show me I didn’t have allergies.

    The incident of allergies is on the rise. Yes there are some who are overcautious, yes there is diagnostic bias that goes around–just look at attention deficit diagnosis rates. But here’s the rub, why not ask, “What is going on causing such a rise in allergies.” without blaming a sub-culture.

    This post is simply inflammatory and prejudice against Yuppies without any supporting evidence.

  65. It should also be noted that there are things such as protein intolerances which aren’t technically allergies, probably won’t put the victim into shock, but WILL cause them hours of significantly painful gastric distress.

    I know folks who respond that way to nuts. I respond that way to avocado, though I used to be able to handle it. It’s NOT all in the mind; we’ve had enough unintended double-blind tests to establish that.

    It’s more common for this kind of issue to become obvious with wild foods, which haven’t been selected for palatability/digestability for centuries… but the fact is, there really are things that some people can eat safely and others can’t. Chalk it up to human genetic variation plus details of how our immune systems got sensitized over the years.

    I do find the increase in reported sensitivity to peanuts and wheat gluten and so on surprising… but that only means we need to dig deeper. It may be an increased awareness of the issue and increased reporting, it may be that there’s some other issue of exposure (last point above), it may be a change in the genetic mix of the population… or, yes, it may be hypochondria. More likely it’s a mix of all of the above.

    You can write it off, if you like, for yourself and your kids. You can question whether folks who have kids with these issues (or folks afraid of being sued) are being overprotective and the kids really should be learning to protect themselves. But you can’t tell others the syndrome isn’t real just because you’re one of the lucky majority that’s immune; you need a heck of a lot more solid evidence. Especially since it’s remarkably hard to prove a negative; the best we can generally do is establish that it’s very unlikely.

  66. He does an awful job explaining it but he does have a valid point. I went to high school with a kid who’s mother swore up and down he was allergic to pork, beef, tomatoes, chocolate, nuts, wheat, feather pillows, laundry detergent, pet dander, mold, dust, birds and dozen other things. He had a weekly standing appointment with an allergist who couldn’t figure out why he was allergic to something new every month. Oddly enough the guy ate, or otherwise contacted all of these allergens on a regular basis. He never once went into anaphylaxis and only ever broke out in hives when his mother found out about said contact and threw a fit. His therapist blamed it on a combination of his bi-polar disorder and his over bearing mother.

  67. As mentioned by a few posts, it is quite interesting how many people seek one extreme or the other. At least the original author brings up a point worth discussing.

    Though I like what @46 said, I don’t agree with the following:
    …pre-verbal kids aren’t that way, and neither are toddlers and young children.

    As far as I can tell, my children were manipulated and in turn manipulated quite a bit before they were verbal. All three, as newborns, had very strong emotional and physical reactions to environmental chemical cues, in particular the smell of their mother and her milk. It is my belief that we begin conditioning our children from birth and easily overlook both the power and subtlety of our interactions.

  68. get-out-of-work or get-special-treatment diseases like chronic fatigue syndrome, carpal tunnel, whiplash, ADD, perfume allergies, and so on.

    You forgot Empathy Deficit Disorder.

    In the same way that scientific analysis cannot find a causal connection between immunizations and autism, it cannot support the notion of wide-spread, deadly childhood allergies.

    The sky wasn’t actually blue until it was proven in a double-blind study. It’s a fact.

    We wound up getting two, plain old cats. Now, their allergic reaction was fairly mild in the first place but after a couple years, it went away completely.

    Apparently it’s the norm for cat allergies to disappear after a period of exposure. Cat haters are going to have to come up with a new excuse.

  69. They later admitted to secretly putting in nut flower to show me I didn’t have allergies.

    People really do this?

    You should have brought that good samaritan up on assault charges.

    Seriously, what the hell.

    And we’re talking eat strawberries with no ill effects, change personalities and get hives from the strawberries you ate before, change back and the hives fade away.


  70. Food allergies exist.
    That being said, I used to cook for a living, and I feel pretty safe in saying around 90% of the food allergies and sensitivities I was told about were pure bullshit. One thing these people are unaware of is how many of them fall into the same psychological profile. They dress the same, they drive the same cars, and most of them have *ahem* exotic diets of some sort or the other.
    And there are more factors than I can list here for me coming to the conclusion that they are bullshit besides the demographic ones, but the most prevalent one is seeing the same people at a party or something and losing their allergy miraculously upon ingesting some alcohol and reefer.

  71. I believe nut allergies are caused by internet usage. A dramatic increase in internet usage over the last 30 years = a dramatic rise in nut allergies over the last 30 years. The severity of the allergic reaction directly correlates to blockage– you see, “the internet” is a series of tubes…

  72. I have wondered about the apparent increase in childhood food allergies too, but that doesn’t mean that they are “invented” (sounds an awful lot like Michael Savage’s theory that “the vast majority of autistic children are just brats whose parents won’t discipline them properly.”) I wonder if there is something in our environment that is causing the increase. I have heard that the link between childhood immunizations and autism has been disproven, but that doesn’t automatically mean it’s not linked to something else. The fact that some types of plastic mimic human hormones should clue us into the fact that there are things small but important that we are overlooking. Dismissing the increase in food allergies or autism isn’t going to make them disappear overnight, and if they continue to increase, then what?

    But we did agree that it is strange how peanut allergies are only an issue in rich, lefty communities.

    Well, then we should be looking at something those communities have that others don’t have, and proceed from there, rather than calling people a bunch of fakes. Hey, I would love it if food allergies turned out to be exaggerated; it would make life for the rest of us that much easier, but I think Stein is the one being the crybaby here.

  73. What a moron. He’s got no clue about the research situation into allergies and is in no position to pronounce judgment on whether it’s an overstated “yuppie” problem or not.

    Allergies are not caused by genetic mutations in themselves. No serious science is alleging such a thing either.

    What science _does_ say, is that the propensity to develop allergies is strongly dependent on the bacterial flora of the intestines of newborns. Improved hygienic conditions actually increase the risk of developing allergies (while they decrease the risk of infections and disease).

    Factors affecting this is naturally wealth and the quality of health care, but also environmental factors like such as climate.

  74. #35, #49, while increased pollutants was a possible explanation, it’s been written off. Children in Eastern Europe have less allergies than those in Western Europe, despite the fact that their environment was _more_ polluted. E.g. Estonia has had vastly less allergies than Sweden, despite similar genes and environment.

    As I just wrote, a lot of present thinking indicates it’s due to differences in the bacterial microflora. They’ve found such differences with comparing infants from Estonia and Sweden.

  75. I went to school in a town whose major crop was peanuts. In fact, this town has a Peanut Festival every year. I never once knew one kid with a peanut allergy. It was something I never even heard of until I was an adult, so let’s say within the last 20 years. I knew kids with milk allergies, but peanut allergies? I asked my mom about this phenomenon–she was a schoolteacher in that town for 25 years and employed as a counselor for another 5 or 6 years–and she said it wasn’t just my imagination; it is a fairly recent phenomenon.

  76. I’m not sure I buy environmental pollutants as a cause of peanut allergies. If peanut allergies were clustering around contaminated sites, someone would have noticed by now. And toxin exposure in the US is negatively correlated with income and social status.

    I’d say other environmental factors — the hygiene hypothesis, age of initial peanut exposure, etc. — are more likely to be the culprit.

    @#73: I once had someone tell me that allergies were all in my head. Next time I was with them, they offered me cookies. I ate one. My lips began swelling, I went into shock and had to goto the hospital for treatment. They later admitted to secretly putting in nut flower to show me I didn’t have allergies.

    That’s horrible — what a terrible thing to do. I’ve heard of people doing that kind of thing before and it always makes me want to scream. What the hell is wrong with those people?

  77. I’d just like to take this oppurtunity to point out that a peanut is NOT a nut, but a legume.

    In other words, people with a nut allergy can safely eat peanuts.

    Thank you.

  78. Xopher @32, Aelfscine @35

    Those are two absolutely fascinating things. The mind is truly a wondrous strange thing.

  79. As an ICU RN for 10 years and a Joel Stein fan, I wholeheartedly give this writer and his article a great big bear hug. Mass hysteria should be treated with a mass retro-amnesiac (Aldous Huxley had a great idea…) and then everybody would just, well not care about hype. Let free range kids be, encourage skepticism and live a humanistic life. Remember kids, only science can save us from ourselves…

  80. The comment at TFA’s site

    1. For those parents of children who have had a life threatening reaction to a nut or peanut, it is a terrifying experience. You must not have children to write such a cold, unfeeling article.

    and some here are pretty much textbook examples of Philip Tetlock’s “taboo cognition” responses. The problem isn’t with the truth content of the article, which I’m not commenting on here, but with the very fact that someone is thinking about a subject you consider taboo, or sacred, from an unemotional point of view. It is followed by indignation, both at the violator and at those who do not condemn the violator, and cleansing behavior, perhaps in this case donating money to allergy research.

  81. This reactionary claptrap falls right in with the global warming “debunking” you hear on talk radio shows all over the country.

    Idiots like Joel Stein don’t believe anything is real unless they’ve experienced it directly.

    I’m a grown man, and I have nut allergy. Maybe a good painful case of allergic angioedema would convince this moron that it isn’t a figment of an overprotective mother’s guilty conscience.

  82. I just got done cleaning our house and wiping down all my kids toys because we’re having a high school friend over who’s kid is allergic to milk, peanuts, and wheat. I’m thinking, Holy Crap!, I wouldn’t wish that kind of thing on my worst enemy!!

  83. All I know is that I drastically lost my tolerance of nuts a year or 2 into the Bush administration.

  84. G JULES @87 How about food additives? Those wouldn’t cluster (at least not as obviously) because the vast majority of people eat non-organic. Another option is increased use of antibiotics causing mutations in digestive micro-flora (See Alex M @84)

    Stein’s argument is interesting but he basically blows past so many possible counter-arguments it’s impossible to take him seriously in this discussion. He was just looking for an excuse to bash helicopter parents, using a new angle to make his article publishable.

  85. Apparently it’s the norm for cat allergies to disappear after a period of exposure. Cat haters are going to have to come up with a new excuse.

    Not a cat hater, but try googling “toxoplasmosis psychosis”.

    It even rhymes.

    Gotta go now, the voices are telling me to change the litter.

  86. #31 Keledjian,

    Do today’s professional writers spell douche ”dousche”? Is it hip?It reads like you tried for German (“dusche”) but got it wrong.

  87. For all the folks who have said, in one way or another, that allergies are fakery to get attention, be special, and have more of mommy’s precious time in your rich, lefty environs, I protest.

    I’m 35 and am very healthy.

    I’m a great cook, love eating food from around the globe, and adore eating in restaurants.

    My favorite foods used to include almonds, sushi, apple cake with walnuts, and peanut butter.

    Also, if I may be immodest, I’m very pretty.

    So why would I invent a problem that leaves me unable to enjoy my favorite foods? Why would I psychosomatically create a condition that leaves me with an ugly, swollen face? Why would I aspire to fear eating in restaurants, because even though I tell my server (quietly, unobtrusively) that I have food allergies, often I am lied to and served food that I shouldn’t eat? Why would I deprive myself of a great, fun, outgoing life so that I can stay indoors, alone, whacked out on benadryl with an icepack on my face?

    Let me tell you, I got plenty of attention from my mom, my husband, and lots of other folks before I was diagnosed (at 35!) with angioedema related to soy and nuts.

    My life was richer, better-tasting, and more fun before this happened.

    Next time you sprain your ankle, have a headache, or feel like puking, I hope someone tells you condescendingly that you’re doing it to get attention.

    1. Crap, I better not get Windigo Psychosis now.

      That’s so ten minutes ago. Windigo Psychosis by proxy is the new Windigo Psychosis.

  88. Screw you, Stein. When my 15 month old daughter was fed a peanut butter sandwich at daycare and threw up and her face swelled beyond recognition and her throat began closing up so they had to call me to come in from work after calling the ambulance, it wasn’t psychological. I have absolutely no desire to make her extra special by making me unable to eat one of my favorite snacks, a peanut butter sandwich, in my own home. It does nothing for my self-esteem to have to be paranoid about leaving her anywhere for fear of her eating some kind of stupid peanut-infested thing. It gives me no pleasure that I fed her a pretzel that, unknown to me or anyone else in the family, contained peanut butter in the middle and made her again start puking and swelling.

    I say again, screw you, Stein.

  89. Stein is trolling. He even admits it in the article: “That’s because scientists believe in rigorous study and proof, while opinion columnists believe in saying something outrageous to get attention.”

  90. I stopped reading opinion columns when I was about 22, having realized that schlock wasn’t actually that entertaining.
    I can’t wait for traditional news media to go under completely. If there’s no more Time magazine and no more paper-nomming newspapers, then our mass exposure to moronic entertainers (well, they don’t inform you in any way, right?)like him will go right down the tubes. The intertubes, that is.
    Heya Mr. Steinypants, here’s hoping you develop some fun allergies yourself. Aren’t you part of rich white america? I think you’re the problem you were crapping about.

  91. I once had someone tell me that allergies were all in my head. Next time I was with them, they offered me cookies. I ate one. My lips began swelling, I went into shock and had to goto the hospital for treatment. They later admitted to secretly putting in nut flour to show me I didn’t have allergies.

    Missed this the first time around. That’s just unbelievable. I’d be tempted to tell them their belief that they need blood to live is all in their head, then cut their femoral artery.

    Well, no, not really. I WOULD insist that they pay every cent of my hospital and doctor bill, or I’d never speak to them again, and even then I would never again eat anything they tried to give me.

    Actually, if they didn’t OFFER to pay all the medical expenses consequent from their stupidity, I’d just cut them out of my life completely, including asking any mutual acquaintences never to discuss me with them.

  92. What with all the people saying they don’t remember peanut allergies being known of back when, I have to wonder… Has something changed with the peanuts?

    Also @ #3 Not that I doubt its existence…but I’ve wondered myself why I was in my thirties before I’d ever heard of some similar conditions like “lactose intolerant” or “restless leg syndrome”.

    I bet you had heard of them before then. But they were probably calling them by different names. “Milk gives me wind” or “I don’t sleep so well”.

  93. Hey, the subordinate Moderators now have “/Moderator” on their names! Cool!

    But so much for stealth moderation, huh? Oh well. :-)

  94. @Lexica @60:

    I agree that my lack of perception is a huge factor. But one would think just once, someone would choke because a peanut was in the room, or similar. It just didn’t happen. There is a gigantic difference in the kind and quality of allergies from my time and the present. And I think the “clean room” method of raising children must be the culprit. It’s just too sudden, too widespread. That and the Wendigo syndrome combined with actual genetic or immune system damage caused by ???.

  95. Lexica (#60) and a few others edged really close to something that nobody has really covered here (I don’t think). As kids, we are less aware of what’s going on around us, and also, our spheres of awareness are much smaller when we are kids. I never heard of peanut allergies when I was a kid, but I hadn’t ever heard of Upton Sinclair (for example), either, at that age. Doesn’t mean he didn’t exist.

    Second, there’s an increase, now, in the reporting and awareness of everything, thanks to the ol’ interwebs. If I had had internet access as a kid, I might have known about a great many more things than I did.

    So, for me, the “when I was a kid” argument doesn’t fly, because kids simply have less access to information than grownups. Internet notwithstanding. The doctor gives the detailed information to the parent, not the kid. For instance.

    The increase in allergies is probably real to some extent, but the increase is probably nowhere near as sharp as people think.

    There was a great statistic in Bowling For Columbine wherein (I forget the time frame) violent crimes had increased some single- or low double-digit per cent, and REPORTING of violent crimes in the same window had risen by a few HUNDRED per cent.

    Maybe nut allergies are several hundred years old, or even several thousand, but we just hear more about them now that we’ve identified them. Coincidentally, people don’t seem to get possessed by demons as much now as they did then.

  96. I can only offer additionally a very broad perception over a lot of years of life.

    I grew up in a very poor neighborhood in a ragtag school with dripping ceilings. It was an immigrant neighborhood, mostly Puerto Rican. My schoolmates practically lived outside their homes (I didn’t: I was one of the first bubble kids. When I talk about parental paranoia, I speak from immense experience).

    In my later life at work my more, yet not top-of-the-educational-line of fellow employees had asthma. Never had seen it before. And allergies. Also new to me.

    Perhaps I should say, the more outrageous allergies: I do recall as a kid pollen and lactose were indeed problems back then.

    When I commingled with the gamer/superhigh-educated crowd that were almost all bookworms and schoolbound their entire lives in expensive homes in wealthy suburbs, it struck me that almost ALL of the males were asthmatic, allergic, practically housebound during the summer. It doesn’t take a PhD to figure out a rough correlation here. Maybe cleanroom syndrome, maybe wendigo, maybe intestinal flora differences as others have posted. But there IS a difference. White “overclass” kids have this almost as a class difference. But I am comparing two time periods, so who knows.

    I knew a girl that claimed almost any food made her violently ill. Yet somehow she could eat Big Macs, ice cream, smoke pot and cigarettes, and any junk food and candy you could name. The correlation seemed to be stuff she liked to do: golden. Stuff she hated as a kid: sickmaking.

  97. Anonymous: “For all the folks who have said, in one way or another, that allergies are fakery to get attention, be special, and have more of mommy’s precious time in your rich, lefty environs, I protest.”

    That is not the claim being made. The claim in the article is not, “All people who say they have food allergies are lying,” the claim is “The percentage of those who claim they have food allergies is larger than those who actually do.”

    C’mon, people, this isn’t all that difficult! Pay attention to the claim that is made and refute it with something other than a huffy, “I am someone who actually has a food allergy.” That doesn’t say anything about the truth or falsehood of the claim! At all!

  98. A dear friend almost died from a reaction to hazelnuts. It was a hidden ingredient; she knew that she was allergic to them. Man, she almost died!

    Since then I’ve developed a severe aversion to hazelnuts; not an allergy, a goddamn phobia. I can’t stand the sight or smell of them. Even reading the word makes my skin crawl. I would no more eat a hazelnut than eat poo!

    Am I developing an allergy?

  99. I’m authentically allergic to fish. Or, at least, I was the last time I did an inadvertent test a few years ago. I’m not in any rush to repeat the experiment, as a positive result is indicated by huge amounts of vomiting.

    When I was a child, I was allergic to eggs. Or, at least, I think I was; I have no memory of a bad reaction but my Mom wasn’t overprotective and if she said I was allergic, I believe it. I can eat eggs now. Ironically, I don’t really care for them.

    When I was a child, an allergist told my mother that I was also allergic to chocolate and peanuts. I used to sneak chocolate, and my Mom got very upset. My next check-up, she asked my pediatrician, a different doctor, to give me a huge scolding to make sure I stopped eating chocolate; the doctor said if I ate a lot of chocolate, and didn’t have an averse affect, it meant I wasn’t allergic. Mom says, “Oh. Right.”

    The doctor said, at that time (40 years ago), some doctors advised parents of children with *any* food allergy to keep their kids off chocolate and peanuts, because kids with any food allergy were usually also allergic to chocolate and peanuts. IIRC, even then the pediatrician back then thought the advise was old-fashioned.

    Now, I love chocolate and peanuts, but they give me a bad, possibly fatal reaction. It’s called “obesity.”

    #3: McRingoStarr –

    I never heard of lactose intolerance until relatively recently either. I knew I didn’t like milk, even though I grew up at a time when adults coerced you do drink it.

    Later, I read about lactose intolerance, and said, “By gosh, that’s me.” Knowing about it made me more careful about avoiding milk, and I’m more comfortable because of it.

  100. First off, as a person who is allergic to nuts, I hope Joel Stein chokes on a nut so I can laugh my ass off at him.

    This is a very callous attitude to take, but I suppose it’s no skin off his back. After all, I and other people like me, are the ones who get to stop breathing. I’ve had more than a few incidents where waiters or hosts underestimate my allergy. Apparently, telling someone “I’m very allergic to nuts, as I stop breathing when I eat them” translates to “Please, feed me nuts if your curious to see what happens”.

    Second, to mcgringostarr – restless leg is very real. My grandma suffered for years from it. No one in the family took her seriously. Her daughters all pretty told her to stop being dramatic about how bad it was. Now most of them are developing RLS themselves. At it’s most minor, restless leg is uncomfortable causing you to constantly shift and fidget your legs but at its worst it is incredibly agonizing forcing you to walk constantly (not something you may want to deal with at midnight when you’re really tired) to deal with the feeling of worms crawling in your muscles. I hope you never have to deal with the condition and, if you do, that your family takes you seriously.

  101. Peanuts and Raisins — if they aren’t organic — have the highest concentrations of pesticides of any foods. Those are the two things you should be sure are always organic.

    I do think there is something to the “too clean” home though. I grew up in a dusty desert home with a bunch of other runny nosed kids and lots of different animals and two parents who chain smoked and I’ve never been allergic to anything and hardly ever get even a cold.

  102. Perhaps it’s just that up until we had the medical care to prevent it, most people with these sort of life-threatening allergies to basic foodstuffs died before they could pass on their genes. Now days, they can bring you back from the dead after you’ve been gone long enough for Lost to finally start making sense, so maybe folks who carry these allergy genes are finally getting a chance to pass them on to kids who are lucky enough to have good enough medical care to live through the first couple episodes.

  103. While I think that this article is way off base, I have to say, as as parent of 3 kids in the public schools, I get tired of the whole peanut allergy DRAMA. Eleven years ago, when my 16 year old was in kindergarten, this issue was never raised. 7 years ago when my 13 year old was in kindergarten, there was 1 child with an allergy. We were asked not to bring foods with peanuts for the class snack. 4 years ago, when my 10 year old was in kindergarten there was a child who was ‘deathly allergic’. These parents stood up at the September parent night and announced to the class “Our burden has now become your burden”. (direct quote). In that class, our kids had to wash out their mouth and wash their hands before they came to school. Nothing that MIGHT contain peanuts could be brought into the room or this girl would go into shock. The teachers were terrified, especially in the cafeteria. Kids that brought peanut butter were ostracized and sent off to sit somewhere else. Thankfully, she was fine all year and never had an incident AND all the hand washing prevented the spread of many illnesses.

    I don’t disagree that some of these children have a severe allergy and I would never wish an anaphal shock event on anyone. But… how do these kids with ‘deathly allergies’ go to the mall, Target, the library, the playground, etc. You can’t tell me that shopping carts, playgrounds and library books have never been touched by kids that have eaten peanut butter. And you don’t hear of allergy kids dropping dead at any of these places? Or do kids with severe allergies just stay home all the time? Or do their parents clean everything before they touch it? I’m curious on this one.

    The past two years, we are in a different school. There is a child whose mom made a huge deal about his allergy. She wanted all the parents in the class to sign a document saying they wouldn’t serve their child peanuts before they came to school and they wouldn’t bring peanut products into school. She also sued their country club because they wouldn’t stop serving peanut butter sandwiches in the snack bar at the pool. I personally witnessed this same child standing in a ‘country store’ 3 feet from the fudge counter which had peanut butter fudge (not wrapped) and other fudge with nuts and he was perfectly fine. Yet, she was obsessed with removing nuts from the school.

    Like I said, I don’t agree that these kids are allergic or that it isn’t severe for some of them. (My child has an egg allergy and I was told he tested VERY severe, but he has never had a life threatening allergy.) But I do think that there is a level of hysteria that isn’t always warranted. And some of the parents are way over the top. Many people have reactions without being threatened with death. Some people are diagnosed and ask for all this special treatment and have NEVER experienced a reaction of any type other than the skin test (my neighbor). So I do wonder if SOME of the hysteria is misplaced.

  104. @XOPHER

    I’d be tempted to tell them their belief that they need blood to live is all in their head, then cut their femoral artery.

    Oh man, that’s good. And by “good” I mean “completely brutal.”

  105. That’s kind of what I was about to say, Mr. Moofoo.

    When I asked a pediatric allergist a few years ago about the apparent increase in allergies, and especially in the US as opposed to, say, countries in Africa which use peanuts as a staple ingredient, he pointed out two facts: 1) reportage of health issues in some countries is vastly more comprehensive than others and 2) awareness is key…we have no idea how many children are reported as having choked to death when it was actually that their throats closed up.

    He also agreed with the idea mentioned here that living in overly sterile environment with little or no exposure to many potential allergens is an element, but (in his estimation) that alone doesn’t explain the phenomenon.

  106. …Stein’s trolling *does*, however, raise the question of why in the past two decades peanut allergy cases have increased almost four-fold. What’s different about peanuts, peanut products, and peanut processing?

  107. My mother had stomach problems her entire life – no doctor could ever figure it out exactly. I did too as a kid. When I was 20 my girlfriend suggested I might be lactose intolerant. I laughed it off but she encouraged me to try a little test. After 3 days with no dairy, a glass of milk made me pretty sick. I’ve stayed clear of dairy since then and converted my mother as well whose problems all went away.

    I suspect the rise in incidents is partially related to this sort of scenario – with the increase in medical care and general medical info we’re more aware of these things.

    I suffer from one other non life threatening ailment that gets a lot of jokes by people who simply can’t understand – gets a little tiring having people constantly stating that the way you feel is fake because they’re too dumb to get it.

  108. Stein has always been a joke of a writer. When he started writing for TIME, it was a sign that the magazine’s glory days were over.

  109. I’m going to take an unpopular opinion here and say that a lot of parents who say their kids have allergies are dead wrong. What their kids have are food sensitivities, and they aren’t a big deal. Or, they just decide that their kids have allergies.

    They also do it for themselves. I have celiac disease, which is an allergy to a protein found in grains. However, celiac is now the trendy disease of the month so a lot of people are claiming that they have it, but ‘cheat just once’ when they’re out at restaurants. What this does is lower the amount that these problems are taken seriously for people who do have it.

    So, I agree with what the article says. Lots of parents do this with their kids and it makes things worse for people with real allergies.

  110. I caught an episode of the excellent CBC science radio program Quirks & Quarks (you can check out the episode here–the specific segment is “Sniffing for Sex”) in November where some researchers were talking about how the birth control pill affects women’s ability to choose a complementary genetic match. The researcher’s U. of Liverpool bio is here, and there’s an abstract of the paper here. The science involved is way outside of anything I can really explain, but they do an excellent job in the podcast.

    Ever since, I’ve been wondering what a graph of the incidence of things like allergies & asthma looks like, and how the introduction & increasing usage of hormonal birth control fits into that picture.


  111. janusnode @61:

    Clearly, math is responsible for the increase in the incidence of peanut allergies.

  112. I was watching a program on defeating malnutrition in children in the third world using a fortified peanut butter. When they asked about peanut allergies they said it is only a problem in developed countries.

  113. I’m fairly sure I made myself lactose-intolerant – I gave up dairy for two months, then had some ice cream. Not pretty.

    I was also mildly allergic to dogs until I got two of my own.

    While I’m sure a lot of allergies can be affected by exposure, environmental factors and attitude, there has always been a subset of unlucky bastards with life-threatening allergies to innocuous substances; as someone observed upthread, these poor souls probably used to help fill out child mortality statistics.

    Mark, I hope your daughter’s allergy gets less severe as she matures. Oh, and Joel Stein is douche in any language or dialect.

  114. When my brother was a kid, he OD’d on orange juice one day. Drank an entire gallon of OJ all by his little 8 year old self. He swelled up like a balloon, eyes squozed completely shut, hives everywhere. It was a little scary at the time, but the doc prescribed a benadryl and said lay off oranges for a while.

    And it never happened again. And now as an adult, he can OD on orange juice all he wants.

    I work outdoors for a living. I’m epi-pen level allergic to wasps. I get stung once a year or so. It just happens, I know how to deal with it, and it’s not fun, but I don’t demand the town spray pesticides and remove every single wasp nest from my work area.

    Yeah, there’s a whole lot of over-reaction. Confusing actual risk versus perceived risk is a major cultural issue in the US.

  115. “genes don’t mutate fast enough to have caused an 18% increase in childhood food allergies between 1997 and 2007.”

    Unless they’re the genes in the peanuts, producing novel proteins.

    Unless they’re the genes in the soil supplements used to grow peanuts, supplying novel aminos and proteins that were underexpressed previously, or leave out aminos and proteins that were expressed previously.

    Unless they’re the genes in “inter-racial” children that give rise to statistically unlikely expressions of formerly expressed genes, or retroviruses, or developmental windows of tolerance, or any of a number of other explanations that aren’t just “human genome”.

    The author of TFA is a non-scientist liar, and a moron, who has stolen the mantle of scientific credibility to lend authority to his opinion, which is expressed just to get him attention. Fuck him – lodge his opinion next to those of the Intelligent Design crowd, and be done with it.

  116. Also, does everyone know that blood tests for allergens are 60 percent accurate? That’s a whopping FORTY percent inaccurate. Wrong, wrong, wrong almost half the time. According to blood tests, I’m allergic to all kinds of things that I’m not at all allergic to. You need a skin test to be sure. And even those have inaccuracies (under 5 percent).

    Most food allergies are not true allergies…they are metabolic sensitivities. True allergies can be life-threatening, but you can also be desensitized by an allergist. If it’s metabolic, it’s not life-threatening, but there’s no way to make it go away.

  117. Okay, I think kids are massively overprotected nowadays. And I think parents would love to wrap them in bubble wrap.

    But to say that an allergy to a food substance doesn’t exist? That is 100% nutty!

    Anyone who has ever gotten a skin test for allergies no there is no wiggle room: You get pricked. You get an allergen rubbed in the wound. And your body does the rest.


    I would gather the main reason food allergies have increased might have to really do with overprotection, diet and hormones in food.

    I was talking to a friend this week about how beef doesn’t taste as good as it used to and you really need to seek out good beef to get anything that is passable. Whereas even in the 1980s, you could get truly tasty stuff from diners, Burger King and even Wendys.

    So complain about kids being overprotected. But food allergies are real.

  118. I’m allergic to cats. I haven’t always been. In fact, I used to work in a pet store. But in 1999, I had to leave my cat with my parents when I moved to Canada and an apartment that didn’t allow cats. And slowly over that year, I developed an allergy which many people at first believed was psychosomatic or not as severe as I reported. At first I would get sniffly around cats. Then I would get sniffly and my throat would ache. Then I would get sniffly to the point where I was dripping mucus non-stop and very embarrassingly, would often have to stuff tissues up my nose just to be able to have my hands free for longer than 30 seconds. Then I started having breathing issues. If I was around a cat for an hour or two, I would be stuffed up the rest of the night. If I stayed for 3-4 hours, I’d be stuffed up until well into the next morning. If I stayed overnight–well, I don’t do that any more–I would have breathing issues for a week. This last Thanksgiving, I dared to test the limits of my Zyrtec at my friend’s house, and ended up having to get a hotel room at 12 at night. I have been in the hospital after a bad cat allergy attack, AND sometimes I break out in hives. A pharmacist after hearing about my symptoms recommended I talk to a doctor about carrying an epi-pen, but since discovering Zyrtec (which works for me on a limited basis IF I have in my system) I’ve been able to go to friend’s houses for up to four hours. After that, we have to retire.

    Incidentally, my cousin has similar allergies….but Zyrtec does squat for him. He prefers Allegra, which does zilch for me. Claritin and Benadryl do almost nothing for either of us.

    Anyway, people will refuse to believe that my allergies are that bad. Or they conflate my allergies with not liking cats–which is frustrating, as I adore the kitties. Or they get offended that I don’t think their cats or house are clean enough. Le sigh.

    As for childhood asthma, both my mom and brother suffer, although they can hang out around cats just fine. I’m the only one in the fam who can’t breath. The same asthmatic brother has a slight melon allergy that nobody else shares. So I’m not sure the genetics have much to do with it in our case.

    BTW, as far as I know, there is no such thing as a fully hypoallergenic cat, as their saliva contains something. Even hairless cats and Rex cats aren’t guaranteed. What some folks have reported is that they can become immune to a particular cat over a period of time. Or sometimes individual cat-human chemistry works out. A friend is allergic to most cats, but not his own.

    re: peanuts – A friend of mine lost his older sister in high school when she ate a candy bar that was supposed to have been on her safe list. She went into a coma and died about six weeks later. Her parents were among those who lobbied for the extra warning about cross-over on equipment.

  119. My nut allergy’s not as bad as some, (i.e. I can be in the same room as one) but I still have to watch it. This includes peanuts, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, macadamias, etc.

    Generally though I can tell within seconds if I’ve eaten something nutty by accident (my lips will start tingling, to put it roughly) and usually a mild antihistamine – the same kind people take for hayfever – can deal with it. Otherwise it takes an hour or two to get out of my system.

    My parents didn’t raise a big hoohah over it (I had a few other problems that were more pressing), they just made sure I didn’t eat nuts.

    But interestingly enough hazelnuts (and almonds) have absolutely no effect on me.

    The other thing; ever since chocolate and other food manufacturers got wise to the idea of contamination of production lines (and thus “May Contain Traces Of Nut” warnings) I never had a nut reaction from anything that’s not supposed to have nuts, whereas during the 80s I would get this from time-to-time.

    Some allergies you can be treated for (I had an uncle, a farmer’s son, who was allergic to wheat but he was able to be desensitised), some which can be grown out of, but nut allergies tend to be more resistant.

    It’s also important not to get allergies mixed up with other food reactions which may be due to other factors such as enzyme deficiencies.

  120. I’ve only met one person in my 35 years with peanut (and anything else with the word ‘nut’ in it) allergies. I breathed Snickers breathe in his face and almost collapsed his lungs.

    Because he was also allergic to coconut, he loved to sing his own version of the Almond Joy/Mounds jingle:

    “Sometimes I feel like I nut…sometimes I don’t. Almond Joy’s got nuts….so do Mounds.”

  121. ” wndr f h wld hv wrttn ths pc hd h wtnssd chld g nt nphylctc shck, s my dghtr dd whn sh t ck wth hddn nts n t. t ws vry scry.”

    xcllnt strtgy… cmbt n bvs trnd f prnts xggrtng fd llrgs wth SNGL NCDTL CS!

  122. I think much of this has to do with improved diagnosis. My son has high functioning autism. I know now (that I’m 40) that I was on the autism spectrum when I was a kid (maybe Aspergers). But they didn’t know what to call it then. I was just “hyper”. This is why 1 in 150 kids has autism now and it was 1 in 1000 in the 70s. Yes, there are more cases. But they’re also recognizing a lot more cases too.

  123. Hmm, so much to say on this topic.
    My kid was exposed to everything as a child. If she happened to eat something off the floor it was no big deal. She doesn’t, as far as we know, have any allergies, but we like to think part of this is that when you’re 1 peanut butter is so easy to eat!

    I developed some allergies as an adult that I didn’t have as a child, and lost some that I did have. One I developed was a terrible reaction to nuts. I have only been to the hospital once for anaphylaxis but on more than one occasion my tongue and lips have swollen outrageously from eating something with a walnut or something in it, so if I suspect nuts I take a very small taste. Itchy lips means a no-go. Interestingly I can eat something sometimes and not others. Pecans are an example. Some times of the year they’re fine. Other times of the year I’m glad I don’t have a “for-serious” allergy.

  124. Okay you know what I think we all can agree on: Kids today are allergic to work!

    You know what I mean!

  125. I have a number of allergies and sensitivities to foods, dust and various environmental “stuff”. Some are worse than others and some of the sensitivities come and go. It’s been that way for almost all of my 45 years. My kids and grandkids have inherited the same issues.

    Until kids are of an age to be able to take responsibility for their own health (and that is an individual thing) they need adult advocacy. Advocacy not hysteria.

  126. I didn’t develop severe food allergies until my early 20s. No one else in my family has ever had an attack of hives. It’s the strangest thing. Anyway…

    I sincerely believe our polluted environment is responsible for the increase in allergies amongst the population. I think with the rise in autism and anaphylactic shock, we’re looking at the human race maxing out the amount of toxicity we can stand without it affecting us physically. That line has apparently been crossed within the past 20 years.

    However, it would be very revealing to conduct a study asking if the increase in autism and deathly food allergies has risen similarly in other developed countries or has increased only in the U.S.

  127. I used to have the same snarky attitude as Stein. It does seem irrational that I never encountered a single person with a nut allergy until I was in my 30’s and then suddenly it seems that every classroom has a kid with a serious allergy. I probably spouted off some the same arguments as Stein. But of course then one day my then 2 year old eats two bites of nutter butter cookie and three minutes ends up turning pale, gasping for breath and throwing up uncontrollably and becoming unresponsive- that morning one of the most frightening experiences of my life.

    Later tests showed an extremely high peanut allergy as well as lesser allergies to seemingly random things like sesame seeds. We travel everywhere with epi pens now. This is not some yuppie affectation, it’s an incredible drag for everyone.

    The main issue we have with dealing with this allergy is people (some in our own family) not taking it seriously. Neither set of grandparents actually believe their grandchild has this allergy and their disbelieve is so willful never enough to check labels for peanut content and that negligence has ended up causing serious incidents. It’s only by luck that we were around each time with medication on hand.

    We now see kids with nut allergies all over (we live in Brooklyn) and most of the parents of kids with these allergies have had stories very similar to ours.

  128. @noneofyourbusiness (#144):

    The first thing to come up was a study conducted in France.

    “The subjects were characterized by overrepresentation of city dwellers (80% vs 76%), women (63% vs 50%), and health care personnel (11% vs 4%).”

    “This study emphasizes the increasing risk of FA in well-developed countries and draws attention to certain FA risk factors, such as the intake of drugs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, β-blockers, and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors) or alcohol, intolerance of latex gloves, and socioprofessional status.”

    FWIW, when I went to my primary care doctor a few years back to get a recommendation (permission?) to go to an allergist, the immediately said: “We don’t do that. It’s no big deal.” and I had to insist and force them to do it.

    That would be bad enough. But my doctor’s clinic’s main function is as a place to treat children. They have kids being diagnosed there and allergies are laughed at?

  130. 1. A lower incidence of certain auto-immune disorders in rural areas has been documented. For example, “Lower prevalences of allergic diseases are described in rural areas of Africa and China.” Research the “hygiene hypothesis” for more information.

    2. Infection with the paralytic form of polio is an example of a medical condition that can occur more frequently in socioeconomic situations with improved sanitation.

    3. People with life-threatening food sensitivities do exist. My coworker can’t eat peanuts. I think he can eat other legumes and tree nuts, though. He tells me when it comes up.

    These statements are not mutually exclusive.

    You can’t really face a problem if you reflexively freak out when it’s mentioned. I know that’s hard if you’ve experienced your child in anaphylaxis or good food banned from a menu, but it’s necessary if we are going to find out what if anything is happening here. Breathe.

    “Without vision, the people perish.”

  131. When I worked as a temp for the Sierra Club back in the 1980’s my co-worker was a woman who had a peanut allergy. I didn’t know anything about it in advance, as it was never an issue until one day, she came back from her lunch break and within twenty minutes, her face had swollen beyond recognition. She had no idea that the meal she shared with her friend included peanut products.

    I couldn’t believe I was sitting across from the same woman I’d worked with in the morning. Before an hour passed, we had to call an ambulance to take her to a hospital. It took her three days to recover.

    That’s some very scary stuff.

  132. I guess I don’t even understand why this merits a post on BB. The Internets is full of snarky, poorly educated blowhards spouting off on topics of which they have little or no knowledge.

    The title of Stein’s article should have been “I don’t get out much, therefore what I don’t see does not exist.”

    This is a time honored American tradition. It’s why every American is an expert on France, for example, but most have not traveled farther from their home than Best Buy the next village over.

  133. I mean reading Stein’s Wikipedia page, he seems like a successful careerist. Congrats to him and all the best, but apart from co-producing some cartoons and making appearances on “I Love the 80’s” I can’t understand why the LA Times would give him space to remark on this issue any more than they would dedicate column inches to Carrot Top’s opinions on IMF spending in Sub-Saharan Africa.

    America has this odd fascination with asking vacuous people their opinion on substantive issues. Monkeys banging on keyboards is amusing, but rarely informative.

  134. I think a better rant might have been: what nasty man-made factors are causing a spike in food “allergies”? Pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, genetic engineering, prescription medication, etc. all could be leading to allergy-like symptoms in certain people when they eat certain foods. That worries me a lot more than over-protective yuppie parents, who can be pretty easily ignored.

    None of above. It’s almost certain that the main cause of (real, unfortunately) spike in allergies is that our kids grow almost in “aseptic bubbles”; their developing immune systems are not exposed to thousands of possible allergens and antigens we evolved surrounded with. There was an excellent article on this in New Scientist several years ago, but I cannot find it now. All that we need is a bit more of playing in dirt for our kids.

  135. There was an excellent post on the Freakonomics blog that I think should apply to this post. As was mentioned in the book but bore repeating again due to two recent events (Santa shooting spree vs. innocent Muslims thrown off a plane), humans are scared of BIG SCARY but unique events that are statistically insignificant but seem far more prevalent.

    I believe, Mark, your experience colors your view of nut allergies and causes you to miss the forest for the trees.

    Your daughter has a genuine nut allergy, but MANY of these children do not. HOWEVER, 30 year old parents are *causing* nut sensitivity by banning nuts in schools completely, banning nuts in the home, and keeping nuts from children because their children must have a nut allergy, or else their child must have Aspergers. And as adults, their moods swings must be bipolar disorder, their stomach upset IBS.

    It’s like ADHD was for children – overdiagnosed by parents who want their children to be special.

    Sadly, nuts are something that most people weren’t allergic to because, before we knew about deadly nut allergies like that of your daughter, we kept feeding kids nuts. It’s healthy and nutritious for those who can eat them. Then, a few rare cases (such as your daughter’s) came up, and everyone freaked out because it’s scary, deadly, and novel, the perfect storm (according to the freakonomics guys) for hysteria. The problem is, if you do not expose your children (who aren’t deadly allergic) to nuts, they’ll never develop a tolerance to them.

    For example, I have asthma, and the general understanding of my condition in the 80s when I was growing up (when everyone had asthma, by the way, which really pissed me off) was that we should be exempt from physical activity at school, because it could cause an attack. So, for years, until I went to Catholic school, I didn’t have to take gym classes, and my asthma got worse. Then, in Catholic school, those nuns didn’t care if you only had one leg, you were going to run the mile with everyone else, even if it killed you.

    But it didn’t kill me. Yes, the first time, I had an attack. I had an inhaler. I was fine, though scared. The next few classes, it wasn’t my lungs that stopped me, it was muscle cramps, from lack of use. By my senior year, I could run a 10 minute mile, which doesn’t sound impressive (hell, I believe it’s 8 minutes to pass the presidential fitness test) but for me, it was a miracle.

    Similarly, there are those who are “nut sensitive” — not deadly allergic, but who merely feel ill when they eat nuts and can be around the dust/oil without a problem as long as its not ingested — who would develop a tolerance if exposed. Other articles out this week — mostly spurred by new research — also speak to this point. But because we’re a nation of fearful crybabies, voila, nut bans! And because of nut bans, we have more nut allergic children!

    And for those who believe this to be a natural progression of evolution (which makes NO sense if you understand evolution — we should be developing tolerance to substances, not more weaknesses) no other country in the civilized world has developed nut allergic children at the rate the US has. And when one country or culture develops something that other humans have not, that makes it a cultural phenomenon, not an organic, evolutionary one.

    Moreover, there is also a psychosomatic effect. People want their children to be special, they tell their child they have a nut allergy. Voila, they feel sick when they eat nuts, so the school is declared nut free (which is ridiculous — an individual or tiny minority should *never* drive policy for the majority. That’s what the neo-cons do!) and then without exposure to nuts, the child develops the tendencies his brain believes he has.

    Amazing! More nut allergies! It’s an epidemic.

    By coddling these parents and their delusions, we create a society of wimps, of babies who think authority MUST take their PERSONAL cause SERIOUSLY and drive policy on what’s best for THEM. I suppose this is a result of the “Me Generation” of the 70s and 80s coming of parenting age, but it really is ridiculous. We are creating an epidemic, “Monsters are Due on Maple Street” style, as we did with ADHD and Aspergers and asthma and so many other disorders before it, and all we are doing is teaching the majority to be whining, and those who DO have allergies (such as your daughter, Mark) may well grow up to resent those who don’t but say they do.

    Oh, and for those who want to know, my degree came from Rutgers University, and my job is evaluating children for therapeutic support services, getting help to those who truly have special needs, and denying those who, in fact, don’t.

  136. and my cousin has a genuine case of ADD- he grew up in the backwoods, spends all his time playing and fighting, so it certainly isn’t lack of stimulation, and nevertheless, can’t keep focus on half his games for more than a half hour (and gets twitchy in the mean time.)

    ADD does exist, but it takes a huge propaganda effort by Ritalin-peddling crooks and lazy parents and teachers to bring the “epidemy” of it to present epic proportions.

    Allergy epidemic is real, but, as many posters pointed out, the way to stop it is more exposure to allergens and antigens in early childhood.

    (The article I mentioned previously is
    Hamilton, Garry. Let them eat dirt. New Scientist, July 18, 1998, pp.26-31)

    There’s a lot of content on “hygiene hypothesis” on the Net. Some of it suggests possibility that hypothetical protection conferred by some childhood diseases could overweight dangers of those. I don’t know what those authors thing about immunological reactions caused by vaccination (i.e. are they equivalent to “the real thing” in this aspect). Anyway, one would expect huge epidemiological studies on this, wouldn’t one?

  137. I eat shrimp, I itch and get hives.

    Must have been something my parents did, considering they fed me shrimp, crab, lobster, oysters (raw!), scallops etc growing up.

    When I was 16 I had one reaction.

    Years later, it happened again.

    now I can blame the yuppies!

  138. What I don’t get here is the people who have hearts that are so tiny and cold and withered, that they resent not being able to give their kids peanut butter sandwiches and feel that RIGHT is so important that kids with peanut allergies should just stay out of school.

    Public schools are supposed to be for everyone, not just the children of callous fuckwads.

    And yeah, not every kid whose parent has an issue with food has an actual allergy. And yeah, some of the kids who really do have allergies have parents who are not very politic about it. So sure, punish the kids for that.

    My nephew has a peanut allergy, one of those scary ones. A whiff of peanuts can set him off. About six years after his initial reaction and diagnosis, his allergist decided to do a challenge. Alex did not have a reaction to the scratch test. So the next week they brought him in again and fed him five peanuts, five measly peanuts.

    He ended up in the hospital.

    My sister told me about going to PTA meetings and such, and begging (not demanding) other parents not to send nut snacks and such in to school. She said the reactions she got were often callous and hostile.

    I found it hard to believe. Who would think that sending in PB & J was more important than another kid’s life? Peanut butter and jelly is kind of crappy food anyway for a staple. I mean it’s fun junk food, but hardly essential. What is the big deal?

    But reading the original piece and a good many of the responses here, I understand now. This isn’t about food, this isn’t about allergies or science. This is about selfishness and arrogance and hostility and a total lack of empathy.

    There have been a lot of indigent posters railing about the fact that allergies are not believed to be genetic. Well altruism is believed to be an evolved behavior. And what we’re seeing here today are a mess of folks who did NOT inherit the altruism gene.

    But maybe altruism is not genetic. The lack of it seems to be getting more and more common. Perhaps these people were simply raised in low-altruism environments. Maybe their parents never exposed them to compassion and empathy and now they are so allergic to it that they can’t tolerate a whiff of it.

    I guess we need to get the word out so that more parent will know to expose their children to altruism at an early age. That way we can avoid more tragedies like Joel Stein.

  139. I’ve probably come far too late to make a useful contribution, but nevertheless….

    A couple of years ago I heard a very interesting programme on radio about industrial safety inspections, in which an inspector mentioned a very interesting case in a factory where a number of workers had become deaf. They tested the equipment in the factory and none of it exceeded the safety limits for noise. However, there was a lot of dust pollution in the factory and they concluded that the safety level for noise decreased as the pollution and other stresses on the body increased.

    Much to the annoyance of scientists, we are all different, and subject to different stresses and strains. The balance between good health and poor health is dependent upon a web of interconnected things: too much bacterial challenge is as bad as too little. Factor in environmental pollution, the changes in our diets, the addition of highly processed food, and farmed food, the incidence of man made fibres and products in our environment, lack of fresh air and exercise.

    There may be many reasons why peanut allergy seems to have increased: it may actually have increased due to lack of contact with the allergen, or it may have been increased contact which caused the rise, as I discovered that the nipple ointment then prescribed for breastfeeding mothers when I had my children, contained substantial amounts of peanut oil. It may be a side effect of our bodies struggling to accommodate a large number of toxins. Hell, we regularly recommend that parents use one of the most toxic substances – flouride – as a caries preventative.

    Few of us can afford the time, effort and cost of a purely organic, natural wholefood diet, nor yet ensure that we can keep our houses free of pollutants. Our genetics may be only a tiny part of the overall picture.

  140. I have a question for all those who respond “I don’t remember anyone having peanut allergies when I was a kid.” Do you remember anyone having a latex allergy? Probably not. Latex allergies were practically unheard of before the mid to late 1980s. So what changed? Two things, and neither of them was human genetics.

    AIDS brought in the era of universal precautions. If you are old enough, you may remember a time when the doctor, the dentist, the nurse didn’t wear gloves unless they were doing surgery. Now everyone who works in a health care setting wears gloves anytime they have patient contact. Exposure to latex went up. In 1990, a protracted civil war in Liberia disrupted rubber production there, just as demand for latex gloves was booming. New suppliers needed to be found, and lower quality latex from alternate sources entered the market. Increased exposure and a change in the production quality resulted in allergies that had never been noticed before.

    I don’t know anything about peanut production, but it is certainly possible that changes in production may account for some part of the increase in allergies.

  141. Things change…eg the rate of incidence of stomach cancer has declined markedly over the past thiry years. Why? No one knows.
    From my own experiences, I can state that peanut allegies are real enough, as I witnessed a fellow worker getting helicoptered out of the bush back in the seventies, after accidentally ingesting some peanut butter (baked in a cookie). He would certainly have expired otherwise – his throat was in the process of swelling shut. It was obvious to the untrained eye that something was physically very very wrong with him. As he had had this allergy life-long, he knew well what was happening to him, and we were able to get the transport to medical attention underway in time.
    As to any increase in incidence of allergies, follow the data, wherever it may lead. Let’s use science!

  142. Lexica @60:

    The difference between the ’50s and now was that your mom, and her parents, had to exercise their own precautions to avoid doing things which would trigger an asthma attack.

    They did not demand that the entire school district/community of umpteen thousand people change their behavior and give up customary foods or other practices toward the end of making the entire environment an asthma-safe bubble.

  143. According to scratch tests, I am severely allergic to every kind of nut, dairy, wheat, rice, and most fruits (except bananas).

    I eat and enjoy all of these things on a regular basis. Except bananas, which make me violently ill as soon as I taste them.

    (However, two years ago, when I was living in heavily-polluted Beijing, I ate some almonds at dinner, broke out in hives and went into shock. Go figure.)

    Tolerances are immensely important for people with allergies — if a food allergy shows up on a test it’s imperative to keep feeding the kid small amounts, otherwise the allergy will get worse. I suspect that at least part of the rise in severe peanut allergies is overdiagnosis and overreaction from the parents: The kid is diagnosed by a scratch test, the parent cuts all peanuts and peanut products out of their diet and the allergy gets so severe that a whiff of peanuts causes them to stop breathing.

  144. “What I don’t get here is the people who have hearts that are so tiny and cold and withered, that they resent not being able to give their kids peanut butter sandwiches and feel that RIGHT is so important that kids with peanut allergies should just stay out of school.”

    While I’m sure there are folks who deep down really, truly think that, generally that response has a little more subtlety that deserves some credit. What most people resent is feeling that EVERYTHING THEY DO MIGHT CAUSE SOMEONE HARM. No one wants to live that way. Suddenly, nothing you do is safe, nothing is OK, everyone’s constantly in danger. This is not a good, healthy communal way to live. One cannot constantly be on everyone else’s crisis agenda. Individuals need to know and understand their own crisis points. And yes, we all help out when we can, but demanding that the whole country jump to make the drastic and unnecessary changes for just a few…well…I’m not convinced that’s the best answer for everyone, including the kid with serious and real allergies.

    Now I’m not talking about important and simple things like labelling. That allows for more choice and more freedom. That kind of work gives you more information, more ability to make good choices for yourself. Restricting food access is not helping.

    It’s not communally good if I demand that wasps be erradicated from my town because I’m allergic. Like I mentioned before, I know my risk, I assess my safety accordingly and live my life.

  145. #153

    You are spot on. There are some cases of serious allergies, but the bandwagoning of others and the moral panic about nuts actually makes their lives worse. Interestingly, i tried to find the original article that Stein was referring to and it made similar points. The article (an opinion essay, actually) came out in the British Medical Journal, and the author put a copy on his website:

    (search for “allergy”)

  146. Joe Stein, filling the filling the niche of “knee-jerk reactionary columnist who over-reacts to a not very important issue and thereby minimizes a real problem.”

  147. In our house it was Red40 food dye. Nasty stuff, incredible that we eat it. Almost impossible to avoid. The worst part is that its in medicine, almost any cherry flavored or red medicine, the kind that you have to get for a child. So it puts you in a position where you have a child with an ear infection that needs antibiotics, and all the liquids have red40 in them.

    Yellow dye was removed from all medicines not that long ago, yet red40 is still in wide use. Sorry situation.

  148. I’m lucky enough not to have any severe allergies (I don’t get on with certain detergents, but nothing on the level you speak of). However, when I was younger, my friend’s brother got a job gardening for his maths teacher, because said individual had had to be admitted to hospital multiple times in one afternoon for anaphylaxis after contact with an unknown item in his garden.

    After a number of years of extensive tests, neither he nor the doctors have any idea what it is, though they believe it _might_ be some kind of spider’s web. He has to carry an epi pen around with him now, and generally avoid contact with gardens and soil, “just in case”.

    On the subject of greater diagnosis in this era, I have a friend who gets extremely irate whenever myself or anybody else complains of “mild hayfever” (he is an extreme sufferer himself). I think this is something I only developed in the past few years, since I will on occasions in the summer suddenly develop the sniffly nose and related symptoms when out in a field, for instance, which suddenly and dramatically clear up whenever I head back inside.

    For his sins, he believes that many people claim to have hayfever because it’s “trendy”, and feels it diminishes his own suffering and discomfort in some way. I hadn’t heard of this before, but perhaps it’s related to what some of you speak of.

  149. Slow down, breathe deeply and explain carefully why you believe that lots of people falsely claiming allergies makes the true sufferers safer? Common sense would suggest that if we know 9 people who actually show no reaction to the “deadly poison” we may be a bit sloppy with our precautions when your family’s sufferer comes by.

    Shouting abuse at Joel seems a dumb way to try and educate people when you are relying on us to make special efforts to keep someone safe.

  150. Perhaps it’s all the GMO foods and flouride in our water supply that cause the invention of new, common allergies throughout the population.

  151. My nut allergy is very real. I was diagnosed with it but thought I could eat them all the time, and did so, and then one day eating some cashews (maybe 20-30) I nearly died. I can eat peanuts, and sometimes after maybe an obscene amount my throat burns, but I have found that the one time someone gave me ONE cashew (claiming it was a peanut, then later I looked at her can label after my throat puffed up) that my throat was incredibly constricted for almost three hours. Everything but peanuts or cashews my throat starts burning after 5-10 of the nut. It is certainly not fake – nuts WERE my favorite food and I want to eat all of them! I have not tasted pecan pie since turning a teen, which is terrible!

    1. what can be done if you have no Epipen and are far from a hospital?

      It’s called a Bic Ballpoint tracheostomy.

  152. @#4 “Allergies can be exagerrated sure, but why not err on the side of safety instead of death?”

    And I know I’m posting very late …

    I think the problem is that people DO invent imaginary allergies, either out of ignorance or because they do want to feel special. People are unclear on the difference between an allergy, an intolerance, and an aversion. I, for example, have an aversion to shellfish, created by a bad crab that left me badly food poisoned when I was young. Even the SMELL of shellfish can turn my stomach, and eating it will trigger vomiting. But I’m not ALLERGIC or even intolerant. And a little barfing isn’t really going to hurt me. Aversions are very real, but they’re psychological, not physiological, and don’t do you any lasting damage if you consume the averse item.

    So if I were going into a restaurant and saying, “Oh, no shrimp, I’m ALLERGIC!” and then two dozen other people did the same thing, when in fact that had an aversion like mine, and we were all accidentally served shrimp-tainted chicken (but if I can’t taste or smell it, it doesn’t trigger my nausea) … when person #26 with an anaphylactic-style allergy to shrimp says, “And please make sure it hasn’t touched seafood, I’m very allergic,” the waitstaff and cook are going to be like, “Pfft! Whatever!” and person #26 with the LEGITIMATE allergy is going to end up in the ER.

    And people all the time claim “allergy” when really they just don’t LIKE something. (Not even an aversion or an intolerance!)

    It’s irresponsible and dangerous for people to claim allergies they don’t have, or to exaggerate allergies they do have. (“That’ll give me a rash/stuffy nose” vs. “That’s going to put me in the ER.”) And I think in many places, people have seen so much of the FAKE allergies that they’re becoming disbelieving of the REAL ones, and that’s extremely dangerous.

    If parents want to say, “I don’t want my precious snowflake exposed to peanuts,” that’s fine. But if they’re saying, “My child goes into anaphylactic shock when they’re within 30 yards of a Snickers!” because they’re overprotective/ hypochondriac/ can’t differentiate a minor allergy from a dangerous one … that’s SERIOUSLY dangerous to children with real and dangerous allergies.

  153. @#98: “So why would I invent a problem that leaves me unable to enjoy my favorite foods?”

    You wouldn’t, because you have a real one and presumably you’re not an attention whore who invents medical drama to make their lives more interesting.

    That doesn’t mean there AREN’T attention whores/special snowflakes/lunatics out there who DON’T invent them. Ask anyone who’s worked in food service for any length of time how many “fake” allergies they run into. And the thing is, THOSE people make the world substantially more dangerous and hostile for YOU.

    I had a friend (Allergy Annie, we’ll call her) who was allergic to some new trendy thing every. single. week. And then would be eating it again a month later. She used to trip and demand we take her to the hospital for her “badly sprained ankle.” Fake allergies were simply the most effective way for her to get attention for her special medical needs without having to actually put herself out at all or suffer any real pain.

    I also have a friend (Tomato Tammy) who busts out in hives when exposed to a raw tomato (but not cooked ones, nature’s a weird and wonderous thing … but of course the fact that she can have tomato sauce on her pasta but not raw tomatoes makes people think she’s faking). But the HOSTILITY and disbelief that people like Allergy Annie generate makes people less likely to believe people like Tomato Tammy. Especially if the allergy is odd like hers, where she’s only allergic to the tomatoes in the uncooked state.

  154. @#135: “I’m allergic to cats. I haven’t always been. … And slowly over that year, I developed an allergy which many people at first believed was psychosomatic or not as severe as I reported.”

    Talk to some vets, this is incredibly common. A great many people develop pet allergies in adulthood over a period of long exposure. Some vets develop allergies so bad they have to leave the profession. And other people who have mild allergies find them less bad when they own pets of that type.

  155. @#167

    what can be done if you have no Epipen and are far from a hospital?

    Sometimes? Not much, unfortunately. My friend’s father died from a bee sting on a remote island while on a family sailing vacation. His whole family watched him die on the coast. No previous allergy noted. It happens, it’s terrible, but Life Happens.

    The recommended wilderness first aid is liquid claritin. A superdose doesn’t knock you out like benadryl (thus leaving your companions wondering if you are dead or just very sleepy) and works ultra fast.

  156. I have been under the belief for a few years (thanks Dr Karl Kruszelnicki for your podcasts!) that the increase was due to changes in the way that peanuts were harvested and roasted.

    There’s been quite a lot of research that indicates that roasted peanuts at high temperatures have higher levels of allergens than boiled/fried.

    Harvesting them earlier and roasting them at higher temperatures is good commercially, but more likely to produce more severe allergic reactions.

    Having said that, I do know some over-protective parents. They must drive the parents with real concerns crazy.

  157. My dad wasn’t allergic to rats when he started his scientific career. By the time I was a teenager he was so allergic he had to wear a mask and gloves just to go into the cage room.

    Allergens appear to be cumulative, too: I’m much more allergic to cats in the spring and summer than in the fall and winter, because in the warm seasons all that pollen and cut grass is beating me up. Or maybe “more allergic” isn’t right; maybe it’s more like there’s just so much my respiratory tract can take before I notice it and tell my friends with cats “I have to leave now.”

  158. I know this refers back to a way earlier comment, but here it goes:
    @26 “How the AAP will gently back down from their possibly harmful no-exposure recommendation will be interesting to watch. ”

    The AAP has already backed off from that position. The feeding guidelines changed about a year ago. It’s just taking a while to filter through the pediatrics community. After saying “PB BAD!!” for so many years, it’s hard to do an about face. I’m really glad that the change has come. It never made sense to me that early exposure to foods was supposed to increase allergy risk, while early exposure to animals had been demonstrated to reduce risk of animal allergy. There are still cautions on children who have 1st degree relatives (parents, siblings) with food allergies.

    On another note…a couple of people have mentioned chocolate allergy. Interestingly, that’s one of the things I remember hearing about a lot as a kid, but haven’t yet seen professionally (though I know it can exist). I suspect that a lot of parents told their kids they were allergic just to keep them from eating too much candy.

  159. field tracheostomy is possible I suppose, if the patient is dying anyway, why not? I think I heard something once from someone on a deep bush survival first aid course, something about instant coffee crystals. What effect does a mega dose of caffeine have on anaphylaxis? Are there any other tricks out there for a desperate situation? I am constantly surprised by the number of people I meet that have extreme allergy but gave up paying for an Epipen every year (expiry dates).

    1. There’s a piece of medical equipment called a ‘dagger dilator’. It’s perform an emergency trache. Stab’n’spread.

  160. ..and that all too long list of names and faces is why I would like to know what can be done if an Epipen is NOT at hand and the hospital is too far. Is there nothing other than a pen-knife and improvised tube?

  161. The thing I’ve found interesting is the inconsistency of parents behavior re nut allergies. We’ve had kids over for play dates with my kids who the epipen at school and are listed as having a life threatening allergy. Ok, fair enough, so I tell their parents we eat peanut butter, that there is likely residue smeared everywhere (had a 3 and 5 year old at the time, not the most fastidious eaters), is she ok with that and please provide an epipen if she is. Turns out its too much hassle to go home and get it, “she’ll be fine”.
    Hmmm. So obviously, not a bit concern for risk on her part, but OK if she can punt it to others to deal with.

    To be fair, I’ve met much more consistent parents.

  162. My younger brother nearly died from asthma when he was nine months old (1976). He had to go to the ER numerous times in his childhood: a thirty-minute drive away (we lived in a small town, as I think I mentioned in my earlier post in this thread). It could be very scary for us, having to watch him go through this, as I can only imagine it was for him. His asthma was treated mostly with inhalers, and eventually with pulling up the carpet in his bedroom and putting down hardwood flooring. I don’t recall my mother making the school make any special concessions on his behalf; in those days I think he was even allowed to take his inhaler to school and self-administrate, rather than have to hand it over to the nurse.

    About twelve years ago, I came down with a condition that the doctor diagnosed as “post-infectious pseudo-asthma” after a bout of summer bronchitis. It was terrifying. I would wake up at 2 am every morning with coughing so violent that it brought on the gag reflex. One night, my husband said that I sounded like a teakettle whistling. I gained a sudden and thorough empathy for what my little brother had to go through. This was overcome with the temporary use of inhalers. Eventually it went away.

    I guess I’m telling this because I don’t believe an anaphylactic shock reaction is something that could be faked, and I certainly wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I’m not a scientist, so I don’t know why the peanut allergies seem to be so much more prevalent than they used to (although the theory that they’re just more reported than they used to be seems plausible). The only real health condition I have is that I’m diabetic, and I’d be all kinds of furious if someone came out with a column stating that my pancreas didn’t work properly because I was psychosomatic.

  163. Probably too far down the list to matter, but I think Stein has a point, even if he was more looking to shock than to inform. Some studies show that prescribing an epinephrine autoinjector requires a careful balance of advantages and disadvantages. Also the number of death by food allergies are to be put in perspectives. Some may reply it is better to err on the side of safety, but in the end it is not a practical thing to do. You always have to err on the side of a balanced response.

    The studies about the epinephrine (In UK) is at in it you’ll see that one of the only 8 child to die of food allergy between 1990 and 2000 died of an epinephrine overdose. Also of note in that study is that no children under 13 (as in 0) died of a peanut allergy. The most deadly allergy was in fact milk with 4 deaths (50%). Who profits and diamonds are forever…

  164. Could the introduction of genetically modified food have something to do with the increase in food allergies? I just saw a show a few weeks ago on PBS about this, and they said that a significant percentage ( I think 30%) of the food we eat now is genetically modified.

  165. Speaking of advantages and disadvantages…

    …the only allergy I had was hay fever as a kid, and that gradually moderated so that adult life was gratefully free of any allergic reactions to anything in all our world travels, until…

    …until I stepped on a rusty piece of metal while overseas and the public health doctor gave me Cipro, after scrubbing out the wound…

    Cipro truly is a magic bullet! The wound healed real-time, like one of those time-lapse movies. A couple days was all it took, even though a foot wound is risky and usually heals over weeks with a lot of granulating scar.

    Surprise, Cipro also wiped out my bad breath and armpit odor, dandruff and jock itch, … even my s–t smelled good! The only adverse reaction was serious hyper light sensitivity. Turned red as a beet as soon as I walked out in the sun, (no way to avoid the sun traveling).

    That should’ve warned me right then.

    Since taking Cipro, (you have to weigh risk to reward, … surviving a potentially fatal foot wound in the 3W), I’ve been in almost continual allergic reaction to something or other, with constant eye, ear, nose and throat infections.

    Some foods had to go. No chocolate, no beer and no milk. But peanuts, and grains/nuts in general are fine, happy to report, the rumors of their toxicity may be overblown.

    Would like to add for those with pets that Purina owns the entire grocery shelf today, and it’s all *GMO-corn* that US farmers can’t sell to the EU. Domestic pets can’t digest corn, especially corn spliced with DNA from bacteria toxins, and that’s not the only weird DNA spliced into our food now, and not the only chemical adulterants, either.

    It’s coming, BioPharm is. We’re test subjects!
    Long post, it shows how complex this issue is. Really good DNA PPT!

  166. A better title for Stein’s article:
    “Nut allergy epidemic — a Yuppie invention”

    Because that’s really what he’s talking about.

  167. The best explanation I can see for writing (or printing, or arguing in favor of) columns like Joel Stein’s boils down to, “it’s reasonable to protect children I love from the risk of serious illness and sudden death. I don’t care about most of the children in the world, and it’s absurd and unreasonable to inconvenience me (or anybody) in an attempt to protect them.” I think that explains everything nicely.

    It’s much harder to explain why current children are so much more likely to have severe allergies than children of past generations. The most compelling theory I’ve heard is that modern medicine saves the lives of premature babies and very young children with immune problems. A sickly baby gets a scary wheezing cough and dies. The doctor my great-grandparents consulted couldn’t tell if that sort of thing was croup, asthma, or pneumonia. Anecdotally, the people I know with epi-pens also seem to have rescue inhalers for asthma.

    There is one social engineering issue Mr. Stein overlooks, in railing against the need for extreme caution in making schools peanut-free zones. Zero-tolerance drug policies in schools often mean that allergic children are forbidden to carry their own epi-pens. A child who hides an epi-pen in a backpack can be suspended or expelled. All medications are supposed to be kept at the nurse’s office (or principal’s office in zero-tolerance schools with no nurse.) The imposed delay in treatment means that allergic reactions at school are more likely to be fatal than the same child reacting to the same allergen at home. The schools have dramatic incentives to prevent those exposures from happening at all.

  168. My ex-girlfriend thought that she was extremely allergic to peanuts. She had an episode as a young child in which there was peanut butter left over on a knife that had gone through the dishwasher. It grazed her hand as she was putting the dishes away and she started to swell and couldn’t breathe. She has been terrified to go near peanuts and the like since. HOWEVER, she has eaten a fair share of Thai food (cooked in peanut oil) since then and it only gives her the…uh…poopies. :) She recognized that peanut oil is the essence of peanuts and would, in my eyes, be far worse as it’s concentrated. I mean, ingestion and physical contact are two, far different things. She still won’t touch peanut butter.

  169. Also, I was found to be allergic to peanuts, amongst other things as a child. Whenever I ate a handful of peanuts or a spoonful of peanut butter I’d get a horrible feeling in my throat and upper chest and my mouth would water like crazy. But I just love peanuts too much to quit eating them. So I gradually ate more and more peanuts as I got older and now I periodically have spoonfuls of peanut butter dipped in sugar for a decadent snack. I start to get that horrible feeling after a while, but it’s extremely minute and I stop eating peanut products for a day or so and I’m fine to have just as much once again! Hooray Nuts!!! :D

  170. Not many look at what we inject our children with starting at an early age. There used to be about five shots and now it is nearly 40, multiple shots given at each “well child” visit. Ths s n ntrstng rtcl wth bt 70 rfrncs:
    Vccns r th scrmnt f th mdcl ndstrl cmplx, thgh, nd shld nvr b qstnd.

  171. @#197 I’ve been in almost continual allergic reaction to something or other, with constant eye, ear, nose and throat infections.

    Now this is part of the problem Joel Stein is talking about, documented right in front of our reading little eyes. I don’t know if you have been tested or not, but this is likely not a true allergic reaction. That doesn’t mean the symptoms aren’t real and very troublesome, but what you’re calling an allergy is probably a metabolic intolerance, which something like cipro is very likely to induce, since it mucks up all your gut bacteria. But it’s very, very different from a true allergy. Metabolic intolerances cannot turn anaphylactic. Metabolic intolerance is not your immune system going overboard.

  172. My family owns a mail order company that specialize in outdoor products. In the last 10 years, our sales of bee allergy kits has fallen 25%. Typically children with bee allergies react stronger than adults so children need to carry kits. At first we thought there was some general trend that was making less people allergic to bees. Then we realized that in the last 10 years the number of children that spend significant time outdoors (hunting, camping, hiking, backpacking, fishing, etc.) has dropped by about 30%. You don’t need a bee allergy kit if you’re inside playing XBox.

  173. Some time back, I read an article that postulated about how nut production changed back in the 70s in the US – how they started using different chemicals to preserve them, and one of these chemicals was difficult/impossible to ingest.

    It really boggles my mind that society hasn’t researched further into this chemical vs nut production change in the last 30 years. Instead of changing entire society to treat the symptom, there should be focus on the cause – there should be pressure on the nut industry to look at more organic ways of production, or be very open about the chemicals they DO use.

  174. I had heard that peanut allergies spiked after the FDA (have I got my US dept. right?) allowed larger amounts of spoiled or moldy peanuts into peanut butter. Does anyone know the truth of this?
    Harper’s magazine ran a similar article making fun of people who “claimed” their children had allergies about a year ago. Several people responded and they gave us a small section in the letters column with a subheading that said “NUTTERS”. I still read that magazine but I was pretty close to canceling my subscription. The author’s indignant response was almost the last straw.
    For the record I’m the parent of a child who is anaphylactic to anything milk or milk related and we have been to the crash room 3 times.

  175. When I found out that my daughter had a life threatening nut and egg allergy (and we found out through the allergy unit of a major children’s hospital, not through our imaginations) I knew that I’d have a lot of inconvenience and worry to put up with – preparing special foods, carrying epipens, vetting everywhere she goes for food safety until she’s old enough to do it for herself…

    It never occurred to me though that I’d have to put up with turds like Joel Stein who work the situation for cheap laughs. Creep.

  176. Genes? I don’t think so.

    Interesting, animal allergies have risen too (as in, animals that have severe allergic reactions to grass seeds). Yes, citation needed, but it does appear to be true. Vets put it down to the increase in sterile and irradiated food. Sure, it last a long time, but it kills alot of important cultures that animals need.

    I can’t help but feel chiuldhood allergies are a result of similar problems – increase antibiotic use and more sterile, treated food on people’s tables.

    Above and beyond all that – it’s callous to dismiss potentially lifethreatening conditions as over-reactions from “yuppie” parents. Whatever the hell a yuppie looks like in 2009.

    I’m sure some helicopter parents do get overprotective and overstate the severity of such things, but there is a much larger, more concerning reason for the increasing vulnerability of the next generation of humans.

  177. why not genes?

    A gene for an allergenic trait has been transferred unintentionally from the Brazil nut into genetically engineered soybeans while intending to improve soybean nutritional quality for animal feed use. Brazil nuts were already known to produce food allergies in certain people prior to this study. In 1993 Pioneer Hi-Bred International developed a soybean variety with an added gene from the Brazil nut. This trait increased the levels in the GM soybean of the natural essential amino acid methionine, a protein building block commonly added to poultry feed to improve effective protein quality. Investigation of the GM soybeans revealed that they produced immunological reactions with people suffering from Brazil nut allergy, and the explanation for this is that the methionine rich protein chosen by Pioneer Hi-Bred is the major source of Brazil nut allergy.[15] Pioneer Hi-Bred discontinued further development of the GM soybean and disposed of all material related to the modified soybeans.

    This study indicates some of the possible risks of GM foods. In particular that there is no law or regulation in either the United States or Canada that required Pioneer Hi-Bred or any other company for testing for allergenicity or toxicity of GM foods prior to them being licensed to be grown and consumed in their respected countries.[16]”

  178. I invite anyone interested to take a look at my open letter to Mr. Stein regarding his bewilderingly idiotic Op-Ed piece in the Los Angeles Times.

    Anyone interested in watching this particular “peanut mom” bat back at him can check it out in the link below:

    I’m not sure what the end result will be (if anything) from writing an open letter to him, but it was a cathartic way to process what is absolutely no joke to those of us just trying to keep our kids safe.

    You know, uh. I did hear back from him, already…

    — He said he was stressed out because his wife is pregnant.

    No kidding.

    Really. And it gets better, but I’ll reserve sharing more about the rest of his “apology” to me, later.

    For now, if you want to see what I think about what Mr. Stein wrote greater detail, have a gander at my blog.


  179. A very good friend of mine died in 1996 after ingesting fried chicken that was prepared in peanut oil. She knew about her allergy, but the cafeteria at her college (Bryant University in RI) did not label the ingredients in their food at the time (not sure if they do now).
    So this guy can just go piss up a rope. Perhaps he’ll get the chance to watch someone he cares about swell up to 3 times their normal size as they thrash around trying to breathe.
    RIP Penny Stone… We still miss you.

  180. I hope everyone reads comments #24 and #26 before flying off the handle. Kudos to both of those commenters.

    Joel is neither a stupid nor mean person. I know him personally; he’s a kind, thoughtful man with a gentle soul.

    There’s an important question in his column: Why do so many people think their kids have allergies when they don’t? He never argues that there’s no such thing as a nut allergy, so implying that he wants you or your kids to suffer is just — well, pointless and shrill and spazzy, which is kind of his point: There is an increasing tendency toward exaggerating the risks and consequences of medical issues in modern culture, especially where kids are involved.

    It’s good to be vigilant if you have a nut allergy — per Joel’s explicit statement in the second excerpted paragraph. His point is about those who are vigilant when they (or their kids) don’t. It’s an indictment of the idea of erring on the side of caution when none is warranted. What’s that about? What does that say about us as a culture? And no one who’s going off on him in his comments above seems to be answering that point.

    Whl ‘m srry bt yr dghtr’s llrgy, Mrk, yr s f hr spcfc cs t nswr Jl’s cs tht sm ppl s thngs tht rn’t thr — wll, t mks y snd lttl lk Jnny McCrthy nd hr ntvccntn/tsm wrrrs. Thr’s scntfc qstn hr tht sn’t ddrssd by th xstnc f spcfc ncdtl css, nd yr drvby n-lnr t th nd f yr pst msss th pnt. Cngrtltn n sng th pwr f lrg nmbrs t mk nc gy’s lf dffclt fr fw wks.

  181. BngBng cnsrd my cmmnt bv, nmbr 203. Thy tk t rfrnc. Hr t s gn, lt’s s f ths wrks:
    Ds Bg Brthr st n th cnsrshp brd f BngBng? s ths wbst hpng fr sm dvrtsng dllrs frm th Mdcl-ndstrl Cmplx? Also, Read “Vaccine-A” by Gary Matsumoto, a book about using squalene, an oil-based adjuvant, in the anthrax vaccine given to Gulf War One soldiers. This is the most likely cause of Gulf War Syndrome. I have read that a peanut oil derivative is used as a proprietary ingredient in the HiB vaccine. My sister-in-law works with children and she has noticed that older, high school age kids don’t have peanut allergies while younger ones do. HiB is a recent vaccine.

  182. After decadess of little more than a really itchy throat if I accidentally consumed walnuts or pecans, I finally ended up with a severe case of anaphylaxis in my late 20’s. At first, I wasn’t sure what was going on, as it had never happened before, but I figured it out quickly. Red from top-to-bottom, every inch of my skin itching like hell, my face, hands and feet swelling up in a matter of minutes, along with my tongue, uvula and throat swelling and cutting off my air supply.

    Kind of removed any doubt of a nut allergy existing. Luckily, I was able to get to a hospital before the tongue/uvula/throat swelling got really bad (I live next door to one of the best in the city), and spent the night there. It took a solid two days more before I was back to normal. If you’ve never partially swallowed your golfball-sized uvula, you’re lucky.

    The next time it happened (“are there any nuts in this dessert?” No? Good… *crunch*), I was in the ER immediately and the effects were lessened, but still resulted in a night hooked up to steroids and benadryl.

    But I too believe that parents are going nuts over this. I personally know 3 or 4 people who swear their kids have a peanut allergy… but have never had them tested for it or even exposed them to peanuts. I ask how they know and they don’t have an adequate response. The fear of this is ridiculous. The belief that if you give a baby peanut butter before the age of 1 or 2 will CAUSE an allergy also strikes me as non-sensical. I’m more prone to believe that by NOT exposing children to allergens, germs, etc, you’re not allowing their body to develop defenses against them in the formative years.

    Some here claim components of vaccines and whatnot are causing this. I think it’s fear and overprotectiveness. But I’m neither a doctor nor a conspiracy theorist… just a guy with an opinion.

  183. @#215

    Th nly “cnsprcy” s n f slnc. BngBng’s cnsrshp f my cmmnt, #203 s vry dstrbng. Whn thy cnsr n rtcl wth 71 rfrncs, mny frm rspctbl pr-rvwd mdcl jrnls nd n frm Nbl Prz lrt, knw smthng s nt rght.

    n my bv rfrnc, s rly s 1913, w’v knwn tht frgn prtn tht ntrs th bldstrm wtht frst gng thrgh th dgstv trct cn ld t nphylxs. W ls knw tht djvnts r ddd t vccns t lct grtr mmn rspns. Ths vccns r nt tstd sffcntly bfr bng njctd n mss nt th bds f yng chldrn. Whn skd r dctr bt dbl-blnd, plcb-cntrl tsts, wth sttstclly sgnfcnt cntrl grps, f chldhd vccns, h stppd skng s bt vccntng r chldrn. llrgs cm frm mny srcs bt ths s n vctr tht cn b vdd.

    t s rrspnsbl fr Jl Stn t mk lght f pnt llrgs, whch hv skyrcktd snc th ntrdctn f th HB vccn. ntc th cmmnts n th rgnl rtcl r clsd. wndr why (nt rlly).

    1. APRyason,

      This thread isn’t really about the efficacies or dangers of vaccines, although your mention of additives is relevant. The website in your comment is full of medical misinformation to which BB doesn’t care to link. If you have more issues, you can take them to the Moderation Policy thread.

  184. “With no exposure to germs (as in un-rich righty neighborhoods like Africa and Asia), young active immune systems over-react (kind of like aggravated parents, touche/douche) when given nothing to do. They attack the only thing left to them, healthy tissue. They create conflict where there is none. Just like Joel Stein.” – Keledjian

    Damn, that was pretty.

  185. Thread summary, 200+:

    1. Autoimmune disorders are real and are a real drag.
    2. Allergic reactions exist on a spectrum from runny nose to anaphylaxis.
    3. Many people crave attention. Some fake a medical condition. Others post on the internet.
    4. It is a curious thing that food allergies are common in affluent societies.
    5. Opinion columns are frequently dreck.

  186. Something was bugging me about the undertone of moral outrage in TFA and in several places upthread to the effect of “those rassum-frassum picky eaters with their exotic diets! Why won’t they just eat normal?”

    Then I checked out Mark’s new post about making saurkraut–the relevant quote is “It lasts a long time around here because my wife and kids won’t touch it.” Just because they’d rather not eat it. And it came together for me:

    Isn’t it sort of not your business what other people will or won’t eat? Whether they be allergic or “allergic” or on a restricted diet for medical or personal reasons or just picky? How much skin does it take off your nose for folks to eat the diet of their choosing, however exotic or domestic it may be?

    Briefly, in verse (apologies to Billie):
    If I like my chicken fake, and
    Follow it with tofu bacon
    Ain’t nobody’s business if I do
    If I eat at the cafeter-ia
    Only if it’s gluten free-ah
    Ain’t nobody’s business if I do
    If I’d never eat a shellfish
    It don’t make me mean or selfish
    Ain’t nobody’s business if I do
    If omnivores all be hatin’
    Doesn’t make me spawn of Seitan
    Ain’t nobody’s business if I do

  187. 25 or 26 years ago I was taken to an allergist to be tested. We found out that I was most allergic to Pine, Peanuts, Corn, Wheat, and very allergic to dogs and cats and every plant that they tested me with. Prior to the diagnosis my favorite lunch was peanut butter and jelly on wheat bread with fritos corn chips :) That changed overnight and while my parents were never peanut nazis or anything peanut consumption dropped to pretty much nil (although oddly enough wheat and corn did not, and they kept serving it to me and my “But Mom, I’m allergic to corn” on corn on the cob nights got me no sympathy since it was “good food”). And of course we had a dog, and I’ve had one ever since. Although we did switch to an artifical Christmas Tree and I stopped having to go to the hospital every Christmas, so that was nice. :)

    Interestingly enough now when I do eat peanuts (they still taste good) I do have a tenancy to not be able to breathe as my chest and throat tighten up and I can’t pass air. Luckily, at least so far, when that happens while it’s scary as fuck, I can feel it coming on and as long as I right then stop eating peanuts I’m ok. And it’ll go back to normal fairly quickly. The same thing can happen if I say, have Mexican food for lunch or dinner and load up on the chips, then go see a movie and share a large popcorn. But I have to eat a lot of corn in a shortish period of time, and again, I can feel it coming on and stop, so it’s not that big a deal.

    I’ve basically found that at least for me, when I avoid something I’m allergic to it’s when I next get exposed to it that I have the most problems. Had a roommate with a cat, not a problem after the first few months. Now when I go over to his house my eyes are red and burning in 15 minutes. And an hour or so in, or sometimes sooner I start to not be able to breathe. Despite being allergic to all the grasses and trees and bushes and stuff I worked for years as a lawnmower, and it never killed me. I thought of it as my own low-tech allergy shot.

  188. Wow, apparently I’m pretty late to this. I am only posting as I hope that I’m presenting new information. Ideally I would have like to read through all of the posts to ensure that I am not duplicating information but afte 100 … I mean, c’mon.

    So, in support of the notion that a lot of kids that are labelled as allergic are, in fact, not:
    “A recent Danish study of an unselected population found discrepancies between the prevalence of allergy as reported by parents (15%) and the prevalence of food allergy on oral challenge, which was 2.3% in children younger than 3 years and 1% in older children.”

    If someone has already linked to this article, I apologize.

    As far as my position on peanut bans in schools, I agree wholeheartedly with the article previously posted (

    Also, Mark, regarding how to deal with Joel Stein, remember what the ad exec said in The Simpson’s Attack of the 50-Foot Eyesores.

  189. #26 – I am of this same opinion.

    Recently a documentary showed interesting stats on the level of nut allergies in countries with specific reference to early exposure.

    In many western countries, there is a high incidence of nut allergies as we well know. However, in countries such as Iran where infants are fed nuts treats as one of their first solid foods, the incidence of nut allergy is significantly low (I believe something like 13 times lower).

    Certainly seems to support this argument.

  190. Here’s a question… are all of these allergies childhood onset? My food allergies didn’t present themselves until I was a teenager, but even in the 90s, food allergies weren’t prevalent enough for my doctor to presume it was food. She thought it was a medication or vitamin that I was taking daily, or environmental.

    Anyway, I’m just thinking that adult onset may have contributed to the rise in numbers. My parents didn’t shelter me as a child, I played in lumber piles and broken glass etc, so where the hell did all my food allergies (corn, oranges, tomatoes) come from?

    Just speculating, but maybe it’s not just the yuppies trying to feel special. Maybe there’s something environmental compromising immune systems?

  191. As several allergists explained it to me, allergies are caused by the body’s immune system freaking out and attacking things it should not, like corn or peanuts. They speculated to me that this could be caused by people generally being more hygienic than in the past, and living in a cleaner environment, so that there was less work for the immune system and it got confused with nothing to do and starting attacking things it should not. So it’s not necessarily something in the environment that is compromising immune systems so much as the environment not having enough stuff in it for the immune system to fight off. That was in the 80s and early 90s, maybe they’ve decided since that they’re caused by something else, dunno, I have not been paying attention much since then.

  192. I personally think many food allergies are caused by High Fructose Corn Syrup. That crap is in everything, and despite what the HFCS lobby might want you to believe in their stupid commercials, it is NOT natural and it is NOT healthy.

    Who knows? Many many people before me have commented on how much crap we ingest now – how much man-made crap that probably interacts with all the other man-made crap in unknown ways.

  193. Peanut trees are literally soaked in pesticides that only the farmers and monsanto know about for sure.
    I read a book in the 1980’s about the poisons used for pesticides, insectides, fungicides, etc. The author stated that of all foods, conventionally grown peanuts were at the top of the “don’t ever consume” list.
    Combine that with the high heat processing, and storing where it is just coming public now that mold is found everywhere in peanut butter factories.

    I wonder how much of the allergic reaction is to the peanut itself had it been homegrown organically and eaten raw. Any real scientific test would have to take all the above into account. right?

  194. But at least he made you all talk ’bout him – which probably gives him more publicity.
    Fun thing is that you’re all mad at him because he claims allergies to be invented and genetic. Give the poor man a break. At least he acknowledge the fact that people are allergic to peanuts – that’s more than a lot of people do.

    Besides, he himself says he’s doing it to get attention (“opinion columnists believe in saying something outrageous to get attention”) so what’s all the fuzz about? If you’re really all that outraged you should discuss the subject without mentioning the man

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