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Dr. Anne C. Weaver: Amherst school’s nut product ban fails to account for other ailments

What I think people don’t understand is that there are other illnesses that make it very important for people to be able to eat nuts — including eating disorders, type 1 diabetes, autism.

Anorexia nervosa is a horrible disease that is much more common than severe allergy and with a much higher death rate. Many of these kids have been hospitalized, many have had to go to programs where they live for weeks away from home, some have had to have forced feedings with a tube down the throat.

Most have to be restricted from gym class and sports, they have to be pulled out of class to eat extra snacks, their meals need to be supervised so they must eat in the nurse’s office or their parents have to come to school to eat with them. They require very high-calorie, high-nutrient diets, and for most of them that means lots of nuts and nut butters.

Type 1 diabetics have to stick their fingers every couple of hours to test their blood sugar and then get insulin shots, or they may wear glucose monitors and/or insulin pumps, battery driven machines attached to them by a tube with a needle that stays stuck in them 24/7. They have to have tightly managed diets and frequent high-protein snacks. They can have seizures or go into a coma and die if their sugars get out of whack. Most of them have had to be hospitalized at least once.

People with autism often have sensory problems and cannot tolerate certain textures, tastes, temperatures, smells. For many of them, peanut butter may be one of the few foods they can tolerate. They too often have other problems that require them to be in special education classes or to have an aide with them in the classroom.

This is not a matter of people being unwilling to give up their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. These others also have life-threatening illness; they and their parents also worry terribly about whether they might need to go to the hospital or if they might die; they too “stick out” as different in school and may have to endure isolation and separation.

There are other reasons that it is useful and important to allow nuts in schools, though these are less dramatic. Obesity and type 2 diabetes are increasingly common and have serious long-term health consequences. A handful of nuts is a healthful and sustaining snack that can curb the craving for sugary fatty foods. Many students are in school for nine to 10 hours a day because of sports and other activities. They need healthy snacks to get them through, and nuts provide sustaining protein, are easily portable, and don’t require refrigeration.

I am sure that with civility and understanding, a policy can be worked out that balances all these needs.

Anne C. Weaver, M.D., is with the Amherst Family Practice, P.C.

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Miriam and Andrew Bourke: Doctor’s opposition to Amherst nut products ban takes sides on patients

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

To the editor: In recent weeks, the Gazette has published two commentaries by Dr. Anne Weaver — a letter and then an article in a highlighted special section — in opposition to Amherst’s new allergy-aware policy based on the argument that more people suffer and die from eating disorders (requiring special protein diets) than from severe food allergies. We find …

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To the editor: A recent letter calls Amherst pediatrician Anne Weaver irresponsible because she has warned of unintended consequences of the new school nut policy. In truth Dr. Weaver — my family’s doctor — is a wonderful doctor with no personal interest in the issue, who is just trying to advocate for children’s health. Nor is she the only local …

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To the editor: One of the perspectives missing when discussing the recent nut ban by Amherst Superintendent Marie Geryk is around economics, specifically socioeconomic status. This may not hold as much gravitas as the health risks posed for kids with nut allergies. And socioeconomic status may not be as compelling an argument as those outlined in a recent letter by …

Legacy Comments2

I appreciate your advocacy for high protein portable snacks that don't require refrigeration, especially when they may be helpful for certain medical conditions. I hope you are also helping patients identify nut free alternatives (e.g. roasted chickpeas, seeds, etc.), so that they don't needlessly harm a child with allergies and then have to cope with that guilt.

Thank you for posting this, Dr. Weaver. Now I know that I will never ever be a patient in your practice. Your arguments are virtually incomprehensible and your analogies between a life-threatening allergy and various other illnesses are poor at best -- and they're certainly a stretch. I've never known anyone in the throes of an eating disorder who ate peanut butter. Still, the Amherst nut ban is written in such a way that all of the kids you mention -- those with diabetes, eating disorders, etc. -- will still be able to get their peanut butter. Just as a diabetic goes to the nurse for an insulin injection, that same child can go to consume his or her peanut butter sandwich. You also don't address the fact that soy butter and sunflower butter are equally protein-packed and high calorie for those kids who need such foods. There are safe alternatives to peanut butter, but you seemed determined to include only the information that supported your agenda that nuts shouldn't be banned. And for the kids you mention with sensory issues who may have just a few foods that they're willing to eat, I can tell you from experience that such habits can be changed. My child suffered from a sensory-based eating aversion so severe that she almost needed a feeding tube as a young child. But even for her, we were able to make slow changes. For example, you can slowly mix sunbutter in with peanut butter, and with each week that goes by, increase the amount of sunbutter until there's no peanut butter. It's not easy, but it's doable, and we did such transitions dozens of times with a child with an extreme oral aversion. But even if such a transition is impossible that child who will only eat peanut butter because of a sensory -based problem can get his or her peanut butter under controlled circumstances. The Amherst nut ban makes this clear. You say that a policy can be worked out to balance all needs, but what do you propose? Amherst *has* worked out such a policy. I wonder if you've taken the time to read it.

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