As summer vacation comes to an end, both parents and children may find themselves with back-to-school jitters, but for some parents that back-to-school stress and anxiety may be heightened if their child has a food allergy.
The current estimate of children in the country living with food allergies is 7.6 percent — about one in every 13 children — meaning a staggering number of families in the United States are affected daily. Food allergies are often overlooked as an easily managed condition; however, reporting and research from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America proves there is significant work still needed to ensure these families feel supported.
Our latest report titled “My Life With Food Allergy” seeks to spotlight the added emotional and financial burdens facing parents and caretakers of children with food allergies. For these individuals, back-to-school time in particular comes with the unease that managing their child’s allergies is now left to someone else’s care as well as the additional fear of accidental exposure to food allergens that trigger a reaction. In fact, of the report’s parent respondents, 60 percent stated that managing their child’s food allergies has had a substantial impact on their mental and emotional health. Additionally, more than half of parents said they missed important school functions and life events or altered plans because of their child’s food allergy.
On top of this added social and emotional stress is the significant financial effect facing parents. The annual economic cost in the United States is almost $25 billion, which includes costs of identifying and buying specialty foods, cost of medical care and treatment, and lost wages due to food allergy-related time off or other career choices. Moreover, the “My Life With Food Allergy” report found that nearly half of parents say they or their spouse have had to make a career choice, such as quitting or changing jobs, in order to care for their child with food allergy. These changes in employment had a negative effect on 84 percent of those families’ finances.
Bringing more awareness to these life-altering burdens is a much-needed and continuing effort but using the findings to provide solutions that may alleviate stress and promote safety remains paramount. Resources and educational tools are vital to helping parents and caregivers manage food allergies with confidence.
Our community works tirelessly to provide materials on treatment and research progress as well as connect families with peer-to-peer support teams, but more can and must be done. For instance, better and continued education to secondary caretakers or school staff on what an allergic reaction looks like and how to properly administer epinephrine when appropriate is still needed. Other needed improvements include better labeling of allergens in food and non-food products, and the greater availability of mental health services.
The obstacles and added anxiety parents and caregivers endure should not have such a significant and unceasing effect on family life. Our report findings along with the larger food allergy community’s advocacy efforts help bring awareness to these issues but identifying these unmet needs and opportunities is only the beginning.
The financial health of families is constantly affected by this disease and yet these financial strains are rarely highlighted in campaigns. There needs to be greater awareness of the costs associated with managing food allergies and more options to help with those costs. We must also strive for greater collaboration between health care professionals, policymakers and regulatory agencies as well as patients and caregivers, school systems and the general public. Only then can we alleviate the burden of food allergies on families and society.