Tuesday, May 14, 2013

School lunchbox bans driving Australian parents nuts

PARENTS are in revolt over school lunchbox restrictions with four out of five complaining schools are overly concerned about food bought to school and one in three objecting to the banning of nuts.

Even the Allergy and Anaphylaxis Association says school-wide bans on nuts in lunchboxes aren't effective and the president of the Primary Principals Association Norm Hart says they are "wrong" and can't be enforced.

However Marita Ishac, the mother of seven-year-old Stephanie who suffers from a severe allergy to pistachio nuts, says nuts should be banned.

"The reaction comes on so quickly it's scary," she said. "They should be more sensitive. If they want their kids to have nuts serve them at home," she said.

The widespread angst about school food bans was uncovered in a Galaxy survey conducted on behalf of health fund Medibank Private's 24/7 advice line for Food Allergy Week.

It found 79 per cent of the 1000 people surveyed believed schools were overly concerned about the food bought in by pupils and 30 per cent disagreed with banning nuts from packed lunches.

At the same time nearly 40 per cent of respondents admitted they wouldn't know the signs of someone suffering a serious reaction to food and 47 per cent said they wouldn't know what to do if it happened.

"Lunchbox restrictions are an acutely hot topic but this must not be allowed to dilute the seriousness of food allergies," Georgia Karabatsos, Medibank 24/7 Health Advice Line Medical Director says.

The president of the Allergy and Anaphylaxis Association Marita Said said there was a "lot of hysteria" about food bans and her organisation did not promote them.

"I think schools have thought this is the answer, they are petrified because we have had children die at school or on school camps," she said.

Such bans often saw children with allergies stigmatised and bullied and they allowed a handful of parents to focus on the ban rather than the restrictions of the child who had the allergy, she said.

Instead of a school-wide ban schools should look at implementing voluntary restrictions in the allergic child's class and only if they were too young to be fully aware of their diet restrictions, she said.

One in 10 children now developed a food allergy in their first year of life and schools should try to educate all students about allergy problems, how to read the signs and what to do if an emergency happened, she said.

The president of the Primary Principals Association Norm Hart said schools were taking more interest in what was in student's lunchboxes because they wanted parents to work in partnership with teachers to educate children about how to eat a healthy diet.

However, he said school wide bans on nuts were "wrong" because they gave a false sense of security to the families of children with an allergy and other parents.

"You can't enforce it, and if you say a place is free of whatever and its not you have a problem," he said.

Marita Ishac says she discovered Stephanie's allergy to pistachios when she reacted badly after eating a Lebanese sweet at the age of two.  "I hadn't given her nuts before and she had an itchy throat, then started blotching and her ears started to swell," she said.

Mrs Ishac now carries an epipen at all times and has given one to the school in case her daughteR has an attack while at school.

Marita Said says the anaphylactic reactions that are most dangerous are those where there are breathing difficulties or any swelling of the tongue or throat and onlookers should immediately administer an epipen or call an ambulance if they encountered a person suffering these symptoms.


Australia: Many alternative medicines fail test

Three-quarters of the complementary medicines reviewed by the national drug regulator have failed government checks, exposing consumers to false health claims that lack scientific evidence.

Consumer law and health experts say the figures show the tip of the iceberg, with thousands of vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements going unchecked for safety or efficacy.

Chief executive of the Consumers Health Forum Carol Bennett said the figure was astounding. "That's way too high, it's outrageous that we continue to allow that level of non-compliance.

"It's extraordinarily concerning that people are putting their hands in their pockets to spend $2 billion a year on these products," she said.

A law lecturer at the University of Canberra, Bruce Arnold, said products that did not comply with federal regulations should be "named and shamed" through government media campaigns.

"I suspect what is happening is they are picking up on a range of claims being made about the products that simply aren't true," he said. "You might infer that particular businesses are actively marketing in a way they know does not comply with requirements."

Figures provided by the Therapeutic Goods Administration show only 25 per cent of the 79 low-risk complementary medicines assessed between September and December met federal rules.

Low-risk products cannot make claims about treating specific diseases, but can claim to improve health if the companies hold research proving this is the case.

More than 10,000 complementary and alternative medicines are listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods. Low-risk medications can be "listed" through a self-assessment system in which companies attest to their containing only pre-approved, low-risk ingredients and there is evidence supporting the claims they make for health enhancement.

A spokeswoman for the register said that, of the products that failed the review, five had their listing cancelled and their names published on the register's website.

"While the TGA ensures that complementary medicines are manufactured safely and do not contain prohibited substances, it does not test these low-risk medicines and cannot guarantee they work." The registry was working to reform the system, she said.

An adjunct Associate Professor in the school of public health at La Trobe University, Ken Harvey, said the register should publish more details of companies that breached standards.

He said that since November 2010 at least 47 complaints had been referred to the register by its complaints resolution panel because of non-compliance, but only eight companies had been named on the website.

"Some of these TGA outcomes merely record continued non-compliance," he said. "The end result is a market flooded with shonky products, making it very difficult for consumers and health professionals to pick the small amount of evidence-based wheat from the voluminous, hype-driven chaff."

A government brief prepared by the Department of Health and released in late 2010 found that, based on 2009-10 data, as many as 90 per cent of complementary medicines failed to comply.

That review, of 31 products, found 20 had labels that could mislead consumers, 22 had manufacturing or quality problems, and 14 lacked evidence to substantiate claims made about the medicines.


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