Thursday, April 13, 2017

The useless hysteria over peanuts

We have become an hysterical society.

Several years ago, a school bus full of elementary students in Massachusetts was evacuated. A potentially deadly item was found on the floor. Was it a gun? A bomb? A blood-contaminated hypodermic needle? No, it was a peanut.

Alex Berezow, who holds a Ph.D. in microbiology, is a Senior Fellow of Biomedical at Science American Council on Science and Health. Here's what he says about all of this:
A commonly cited statistic is that 150 to 200 Americans die from peanut allergies annually. However, that figure appears to be a back-of-the-envelope estimate with little evidence to support it. Journalism professor Meredith Broussard reported that merely 11 Americans died from all food allergies combined in 2005. Even if the larger estimate is true, it's still five times fewer than the number of people who die falling out of bed1, and it's roughly equivalent to the number who die from autoerotic asphyxiation.
Do peanut restrictions at schools work? No.
An article published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology surveyed schools in Massachusetts. They compared the rates of epinephrine administration (a proxy for anaphylaxis) from 2006-2011 between schools with various peanut restrictions and schools without them. Obviously, one would expect that schools with restrictive policies wouldn't need to use EpiPens very often. But that's not what they found.

Restrictive peanut policies don't reduce anaphylaxis. Furthermore, schools that were truly "peanut-free" (i.e., the school did not serve peanuts and banned students from bringing them) had the exact same rate of epinephrine administration as schools without those policies. The only policy that worked, the authors found, was for lunchrooms to establish peanut-free tables. 
The temptation of society to ban things "for the public good" is incredibly strong. It would be nice, however, if less hysteria and more data factored into policymaking.
I suspect that parents will still want to be hysterical, however. They are probably the same ones who don't vaccinate their children.

No comments:

Post a Comment