Feeds

Harvard prof slams US nut allergy hysteria

Tastes like 'mass psychogenic illness'

Build a business case: developing custom apps

A Harvard professor of medical sociology has agreeably warned that increasing hysteria over nut allergies in kids bears the hallmarks of mass psychogenic illness (MPI) - described as "a social network phenomenon involving otherwise healthy people in a cascade of anxiety".

Writing in the British Medical Journal, Nicholas A Christakis cites the extreme example of when a potentially fatal peanut was "spotted on the floor of a school bus, whereupon the bus was evacuated and cleaned (I am tempted to say decontaminated), even though it was full of 10-year-olds who, unlike two-year-olds, could actually be told not to eat food off the floor".

He also explains the case of one of his own kid's school, which indulges in the traditional ritual of selling wrapping paper and candy to raise funds. He says: "This year parents in our school were told that they could no longer pick up their purchases from their children’s classrooms. Instead they had to pick up their orders from a loading dock at specified times, to avoid a danger to the children."

He continues: "The danger? Some of the orders contained sealed tins of festive nuts. Out of an overabundance of caution the school decided not to allow any of the items on the premises."

The facts are these, Christakis insists: "About 3.3 million Americans are allergic to nuts, and even more - 6.9 million - are allergic to seafood. However, all told, serious allergic reactions to foods cause just 2,000 hospitalisations a year (out of more than 30 million hospitalisations nationwide). And only 150 people (children and adults) die each year from all food allergies combined."

He adds: "Compare that number with the 50 people who die each year from bee stings, the 100 who die from lightning strikes, and the 45,000 who die in motor vehicle collisions. Or compare it with the 10,000 hospitalisations of children each year for traumatic brain injuries acquired during sports or the 2,000 who drown or the roughly 1,300 who die from gun accidents. We do not see calls to end athletics. There are no doubt thousands of parents who rid their cupboards of peanut butter but not of guns. And more children assuredly die walking or being driven to school each year than die from nut allergies."

Yup, sounds like a classic case of MPI, previously known as "epidemic hysteria", which commonly in small towns, factories and schools - described as easily susceptible to a fear of mass contamination - can "provoke anxiety to imagine a hidden, deadly danger in so innocent a thing as having a snack in kindergarten".

In reality, Christakis explains, MPI may actually exacerbate nut allergy problems, "resulting in children who, lacking exposure to nuts, are actually sensitised to them". The epidemic is fed, meanwhile by "efforts to reduce exposure to nuts [which] actually fan the flames, since they signal to parents that nuts are a clear and present danger" - which in turn "encourages more parents to worry, which fuels the epidemic".

Christakis reckons the cycle of "increasing anxiety, draconian measures, and increasing prevalence of nut allergies must be broken", and recommends treatment for MPI focussing on "the social and psychological nature of the epidemic" which apparently involves "providing reassurance ... [and] using a calm and authoritative approach".

Which, we reckon, can more or less be summarised as: "Your kids are not going to die from exposure to peanut butter. Now get a grip on yourself, you nutter." ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
LOHAN packs bags for SPACEPORT AMERICA!
Spanish launch goes titsup, we're off to the US of A
Gigantic toothless 'DRAGONS' dominated Earth's early skies
Gummy pterosaurs outlived toothy competitors
'Leccy racer whacks petrols in Oz race
ELMOFO rakes in two wins in sanctioned race
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
Boffins build CYBORG-MOTHRA but not for evil: For search & rescue
This tiny bio-bot will chew through your clothes then save your life
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.