Why So Many Food Allergies?

Reporter: Shannon Samson

Late last month, a 15-year-old girl died after kissing her boyfriend who'd just eaten peanut butter.

It just goes to show how little of the offending protein it takes to cause a reaction. It's a threat for three million American children who have food allergies. And that number is only expected to grow.

Ten years ago, the lunch ladies at Tamarack Elementary School used to have to worry about kids who were on a low sodium diet or the occasional diabetic. These days, food allergies are their main concern. Lunch room manager Nancy Hall says, "Even though we have a plan of action they always ask. Day after day if we were to serve something with peanut butter or nuts, they still would ask."

Technology helps. When students enter their pass codes to pay for their lunches, an alert pops up if they have any special needs. Currently, three students at Tamarack have food allergies.

If some estimates are correct, that number will double in five years. One theory is kids are simply too clean. Allergist Dr. Jason White says, "We're not fighting against diphtheria, measles, tetanus any longer. Our immune system is sophisticated, it needs something to do and instead of attacking diseases, it's attacking these other allergic triggers. As a result, as a population, we're becoming more allergic."

The major offenders are called the "Big Eight," peanuts, eggs, milk, wheat, soy, tree nuts, fish and shellfish.

For second grader Nathan Taylor, it's... "I can't have nuts."

Mom Beth Taylor says, "I have brainwashed my child."

Ever since his first violent reaction as a child, Beth Taylor has been vigilant about teaching Nathan and just about everyone with whom he comes in contact to keep him away from nuts and keep his epi-pen nearby.

Still, there is resistance. Beth says, "Well, actually, I still do worry, especially this time of year with the holidays, extra treats, extra parties. I think this is a good time of the year to remind everybody of just how serious it can be."

This time of year makes her especially anxious because of all the homemade goodies kids bring to class.

The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act calls for all allergens to be clearly listed on the label of manufactured foods. And it must be in plain English. So if it's says "albumin" for example, it has to have the word "egg" next to it in parenthesis. The law goes into effect January 1, 2006.