Dr. Anne C. Weaver: Amherst school’s nut product ban fails to account for other ailments
AMHERST — I was impressed with the thoughtful and well-written guest column by Renee Ballou, the South Deerfield teen who explained so well what it is like to live with a severe anaphylactic reaction to nuts (Gazette, “Feeling safe, at last, in school,” Nov. 7).
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.