Food allergies have increased tremendously in the past few years, and data in South Africa suggests a food allergy prevalence of around 2.5% of the urban childhood population. This means that up to 1 in 40 children has a food allergy! In most average-sized schools with 3-4 classes per grade, this equates to 1-3 children per grade.
Going to school is an extremely stressful time for food-allergic children and their families, as they move from a “controlled” to a relatively “uncontrolled” environment. Understandably, many parents and children tend to be anxious during this transition. It is a child’s right to stay safe during eating time and to be socially included.
More and more schools are starting to understand the severity of allergies. Interestingly, studies have suggested that going “allergen free”, for example nut-free, is not necessarily the best approach for all, as this can lead to allergy-sufferers and care-givers “letting their guard down.” All schools should be “allergen-safe” and have policies in place for protecting the food allergic child. These may be designated allergen-free classrooms or eating zones, or closely supervised meal times and a no-sharing of food policy for younger children.