Parents frequently remove whole food groups from their child’s diet without sufficient guidance to replace these food with nutritionally complete alternatives. For the childcare industry, the high prevalence of self- diagnosed or mis- diagnosed food allergies has huge health and safety implications.
This week is Food allergy and Intolerance week, and part of the campaign for 2012 is supported by NHS Choices to guide parents to accurate, appropriate testing for food allergy and intolerance. Although food allergies and intolerances are more common in the under 5s (between 5% and 10% of children have some form of intolerance) it is far lower than many parents believe and certainly lower than intolerance testing companies would have us believe.
Nigel Denby, Dietitian and founder of early year’s advice website, www.Grub4life.com
explained, “We hear from so many parents and child carers who are worried about food allergies. Parents often confuse allergies with normal toddler behaviour”. Food preferences and fussy eating affect almost all toddlers, at least 70% of under-fives refuse to eat certain foods for a period of time, and parents mistake this normal behaviour as food allergy. Denby explained “If the child goes to nursery, a special diets is requested, food allergies need very careful managing in childcare and the more special diets a nursery caters for, the greater the risk of mistakes being made”
There have been cases where toddlers with food allergies have died in nurseries and Grub4life is worried there could be more in the future. Denby told us “We have seen nurseries catering for 20 or 30 special diets every day, when in fact they may only have 2 or 3 children with true allergies or intolerances to food. The rest have all been for children with normal food aversions, who should not be on special diets at all. For the children with a real food issue, the additional special diets mean they are at an increased risk of a mistake being made every time they eat in the nursery.”
Food intolerance is a digestive disorder which many children grow out of by the time they reach primary school. Symptoms vary, but can include vomiting, diarrhoea, skin irritations and tummy ache. Intolerances are uncomfortable but rarely life threatening. Food allergy is quite different, it’s an immune reaction which can trigger very severe symptoms, the most sever being anaphylaxis which can result in rapid death. Allergies can be diagnosed using blood tests and skin prick testing in specialist allergy clinics. There are hundreds of tests available over the internet and on the high street- these are not reliable and often give false, positive results. The only clinically valid diagnosis for food intolerance involves a food exclusion diet which requires the supervision of a Dietitian to avoid nutritional problems.
Grub4life support Allergy and Intolerance week, and hope the campaign helps parents and child carers to distinguish between food allergies and intolerances and normal food preferences and aversion in toddlers. For specialist training and support in managing food allergies and intolerance for child carers and parents go to http://grub4life.org.uk/factsheets/nc1b98546ad0e5c024f2ae1bbd227293b/
To find out more about the NHS Choice tool to help separate fact from fiction about allergies go to http://www.nhs.uk/Tools/Pages/Food-allergy-myth-buster.aspx