If you ask a child what their favorite holiday is, you might be surprised to hear them say Halloween! Between the costumes, candy, parties, and thrill of the scare, Halloween has become a fast favorite over the decades. Coinciding with its rise in popularity, however, is a rise in dangerous food allergies that put trick-or-treaters at a serious health risk.
What Are Food Allergies?
The body is an incredible feat of biological design, but sometimes, it mistakenly attacks itself (autoimmune) or overreacts to certain substances (allergies), which can lead to potentially life-threatening symptoms. For people who suffer from food allergies, their body’s immune system mistakenly identifies harmless food proteins as dangerous and abnormally reacts in efforts to destroy them.
According to FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education), a food allergy reaction sends someone to the ER roughly every 3 minutes.
Food allergy symptoms can vary from mild digestive problems to nausea, hives, skin rash, vomiting, flatulence, itching, cramping, swollen lips, and even swollen airways. Severe anaphylaxis and a drop in blood pressure can lead to loss of consciousness and death if not immediately treated.
The most common food allergens include:
- Tree nuts
Kids can be allergic to uncommon allergens, however, including corn, meat, gelatin, and spices. Food allergies differ from food intolerance (i.e. lactose intolerance) in that they always have the potential to be very serious and/or life-threatening, so those who experience food allergies should always use caution when eating, especially around holidays like Halloween.
Egg, milk, wheat, nuts, and even soy are common ingredients in many favored Halloween treats, from candy bars, to cookies, and more, making it one of the most dangerous holidays for children with food allergies.
How Prevalent Are Food Allergies?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 4 out of every 100 children has a food allergy, and food allergies among children are becoming more and more common all the time.
Studies have shown that in the decade between 1997 and 2007, food allergies in children jumped up a whopping 18 percent! And, the nonprofit FAIR Health revealed study results this past August that showed a 377 percent increase between 2007 and 2016 in insurance claims for anaphylactic food reactions.
While an estimated 3.5 to 4 percent of the total population of the United States has food allergies, the prevalence in infants and young children is the highest, closer to 5 to 8 percent. If you are a parent, the chances that your child has a classmate with food allergies is good, which means that it is not just that specific child but the entire classroom community which needs to keep food allergies in mind.
How Can You Help Kids With Food Allergies at Halloween?
It’s not just trick-or-treating, but also those much-anticipated class parties, that can put kids with food allergies at risk. When it comes to doing your part as a parent or neighbor this Halloween, don’t miss these holiday tips:
- Making or buying food for the class party? Confirm any food allergies students might have with the room mom or teacher to ensure that you are contributing food the entire classroom can eat. Many schools don’t allow homemade treats, so if you are purchasing goodies from the store, be extra mindful of reading the entire nutrition label and looking for warnings like, “May contain trace amounts of tree nuts” or “Processed in a facility that also processes nuts”, for example.
- Take part in the Teal Pumpkin Project! First launched nationally in 2014 by FARE, the Teal Pumpkin Project aims to both raise awareness of food allergies in kids as well as provide a safe space for kids with allergies to enjoy trick-or-treating. If you are planning on handing out candy to trick-or-treaters this year, consider taking part in the Teal Pumpkin Project.
Here’s how it works:
- In addition to candy, buy small toys and non-food prizes to hand out to kids with food allergies.
- Paint a pumpkin teal, the color of food allergy awareness, and place it on your front porch to let kids know you have non-food treat options.
- Display a free, printable sign from FARE that helps explain the teal pumpkin to trick-or-treaters and their parents.
- Managing your own child with food allergies at Halloween? Consider doing a brief drive around the neighborhood prior to trick-or-treat time to gauge a path for Teal Pumpkin houses, and reiterate food allergy rules with your kids.
Some more helpful tips include:
- Reminding them to never eat candy without checking the label first.
- Plan on separating safe candy from unsafe candy with your kid to donate or swap with a sibling that doesn’t have food allergies.
- Purchase a bunch of allergy-friendly candy and sweets, and make the trade with your child when they come home from a night of collecting. (You’ll both win out in this fun exchange!)
- Cover exactly what is OK to eat so your child can get excited about the right thing, i.e. if they are allergic to nuts, they’ll know to keep an eye out for bubble gum, fruit snacks, or taffy.
- Teach your child to politely ask for a toy instead of candy at the Teal Pumpkin houses.
Worried about your own candy consumption around Halloween? Don’t get spooked by a few extra calories here and there. Run them off with a pedal exerciser you can place under your desk and exercise with while you work, watch TV, or wait for the kids to get back from trick-or-treating!
The stress of the holidays can easily take a toll on your physical and emotional health. Don’t let that become a reality for kids with food allergies! Being mindful, cautious, and engaged in food allergy awareness can only benefit the health of your child’s classroom and your neighborhood.