May 14-20, 2023 is Food Allergy Awareness Week. For families living with food allergies, exercising caution around potential allergens is a year-round activity. But this special week offers food allergy families an opportunity to come together, share resources, and spread awareness of food allergy issues among our broader communities.
It’s estimated that 32 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.6 million children under the age of 18. That’s one in 13 children or roughly two in every school classroom. The picture widens to nearly 85 million Americans impacted, when you account for all the people who shop for, cook for, and live with those with severe food allergies, as well as those with food intolerances and other dietary restrictions. Together, we can contribute to greater understanding, build empathy, and drive the change needed to make life safer and more inclusive for all people living with food allergies.
Our Latitude team looks forward to this important week each year. The week allows us to amplify the experiences of food allergy families in a unified voice across the country, from food allergy patients and families to our clinics, advocacy groups, research institutions, government proclamations, schools, and allergy-aware restaurants. Every person impacted by food allergies deserves support and a chance to be heard.
Stay up to date on your allergy awareness resources
If you’re planning on participating in Food Allergy Awareness Week by raising awareness in your own community, it never hurts to brush up on the facts and to have a few resources that you can point people to, so they can learn more. Here are a few sites to get you started.
If you’re not already a member of a support group, locally or online, now is a good time to make that connection. Our Latitude Facebook group is an excellent source for support. Kids With Food Allergies (KWFA) — a division of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) — also offers forums and newsletters with the latest food allergy news.
Explore the latest testing and treatment options
Food allergies may change over time. Ongoing evaluation is a vital component of food allergy care, and we recommend that food allergies should be assessed yearly. If you haven’t discussed this recently with your primary care physician, you can proactively request a referral or reach out directly to our Latitude team.
Complete testing, including oral food challenges when appropriate, can ensure that families are not unnecessarily avoiding foods. In addition, treatment options such as oral immunotherapy (OIT) offered at Latitude may offer a proactive path forward to help those burdened with food allergies move beyond daily physical and emotional limitations.
Know that personal stories are powerful tools
Storytelling is a powerful force for social change. Stories engage the regions of the brain that help us understand the experiences of others, in a way that non-narrative messages do not. Consider sharing your family’s experiences with food allergies, in person with friends and colleagues, or on social media, using hashtags like #FoodAllergyAwareness and #AllergyAlly.
You can also share the experiences of Latitude patients who have their own inspiring stories. In doing so, you can help others understand the reality of living with food allergies, inspire empathy in those around you and help spread awareness that there are treatment options available.
Support local businesses that support their food allergy customers
If you’re lucky, you may know a restaurant, bakery or another food establishment that goes the extra mile to accommodate food allergy families. If so, help spread the word on social media, or consider writing a review on a review site like Yelp or Allergy Eats. In addition to supporting businesses that make things safer for people with food allergies, you’re creating more dialogue around the issue. Hopefully, other establishments will sit up and take notice.
Don’t just be a cautious shopper. Be a vocal consumer.
Allergy-avoidant shopping can be a costly business. Research suggests that allergen-conscious consumers spend 5% more than other shoppers on groceries, often focusing on trusted brands, researching on food allergy resource sites like Snack Safely, and spending more time than the average shopper reading labels for potential problems.
Realistically, you’re already “voting with your grocery dollar.” But consider contacting brands you’d like to see do a better job of food labeling, or start manufacturing more allergen-free products. The more vocal we are, the more likely we are to see brands cater to our families’ needs.
Advocate for policy changes
In addition to voting with our dollars, it never hurts to remind those in power that food allergy families vote at the ballot box. Consider lobbying your local and national government representatives for better food labeling laws, increased funding for food allergy research, and more comprehensive school policies. This year, sesame was added to the list of ingredients required to be labeled as an allergen on packaged foods (note that foods in stock before 2023 will not contain that labeling, and have not been removed from the marketplace).
Clearly, the food allergy legislation landscape is not set in stone. Stay informed about the latest policy developments in the food safety space, and lend your voice to petitions and public commenting.
Parents of kids with food allergies know all too well the sting of kids feeling excluded. Often, people would be happy to accommodate the needs of those with food allergies, but if they’re not directly affected, it’s not always top of mind. That’s where we come in as food allergy advocates. Consider promoting allergy-friendly activities and events, such as allergy-aware playdates, school parties, and community gatherings. By fostering an inclusive environment, you’ll help your child feel accepted and valued while simultaneously educating others about food allergy management.
Your voice and your choices are powerful
As a parent, you have a powerful voice in raising awareness about food allergies during Food Allergy Awareness Week and beyond. By sharing your story, educating others, supporting allergy-friendly businesses, and advocating for policy changes, you can help create a more inclusive and understanding world for children with food allergies, and their families. Every small step counts and together we can make a difference.