Examining the Challenge of Food Allergies in Local Communities

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When examining some of the most prominent illnesses commonly seen across Black communities, food allergies tend to go overlooked when considering signifiers of greater health issues. While it is not confirmed whether Black people suffer food allergy related ailments due to genetic makeup, research supports a clear intersectionality that exists between poor clinical outcomes and socio-demographic variables within Black communities. 

According to the National Library of Medicine National Center for Biotechnology Information (NIH), there is a “higher risk of self-reported food allergy amongst ethnic minority groups in the USA.” The report added that there are “higher rates of single and multiple food allergies amongst Black American children vs. other ethnic minority groups.”  

Both children and adults in the Black community are seemingly struck with greater risk of food allergy illnesses. The report indicates that there is a clear correlation between food allergies and “health literacy.”

“Evidence suggests a strong intersection between poor clinical outcomes and deprivation and literacy, as a significant proportion of the ‘most deprived population’, and those with poor general and health literacy are likely to be from ethnic minority groups,” NIH reports.  “This is highly relevant in patients with allergies and allergic conditions as clinical outcomes depend on patient education and empowerment with the implementation of self-management plans.”

Similar to national statistics highlighting the prevalence of food allergies and illness, some District residents simultaneously scramble to manage health demands while facing the socio-demographic conditions that surround them. Organizations like the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) collective are working closely with East of the River residents to provide food, education, and treatment resources to aid those residents battling health conditions connected to allergic reactions.  

“The delivery of health education, support and care in the community setting is a highly promising strategy to prevent and manage food allergies, particularly among under-resourced populations,” a representative from FARE told The Informer. “In response, FARE created the Community Access Program (CAP) in 2021 and is now building a presence in DC’s Wards 7 & 8.”

FARE’s team, inclusive of professionals and community stakeholders, a volunteer advisory council of caregivers, and adults with food allergies, work in conjunction with healthcare providers, schools, community organizations, and FARE’s advisory council to create education and awareness activities for residents within East of the River neighborhoods.  The organization has stood at the epicenter of scientific discovery.

Unbeknownst to many, food allergies strongly indicate more serious or looming health issues, as they present themselves in various ways.  Symptoms preceding allergic reactions tend to appear between just minutes to roughly two hours after exposure to a particular food, often ranging between mild to severe, and in some cases life-threatening. Mild allergy symptoms run the gamut of: sneezing, itchy or runny nose, mild itching, itchy mouth, hives, discomfort, or mild nausea. Severe reactions include fainting, dizziness, breathing complications, tongue swelling, vomiting, anxiety and sometimes fatalities. 

FARE highlights parents’ concern for their children’s dietary regimens that greatly contribute to specific food allergy episodes, while suggesting methods to manage their children’s food intake and safety.

“For many years, recommendations for preventing food allergy in infants at high risk included delaying the introduction of potentially allergenic foods. Some health care professionals still encourage new parents to delay the start of certain foods like dairy and peanuts by at least one year,” said FARE’s organizational leaders.  “However, groundbreaking studies have shown that introducing common allergens like peanut-containing foods to infants at an early age, 4 to 6 months, could reduce the risk of developing a food allergy for some babies.”

Some research uncovering the fairly popular food allergy to shellfish in Black families, correlates early exposure to roach rodents in the home to the physical aversion to seafood elements.  This essentially indicates exposure to cockroaches and dust mites suspected to cause the development of a shellfish allergy.  Certain proteins in shellfish like shrimp are similar to proteins found in the muscles of cockroaches causing an allergic response to the food.  The educational standpoint becomes imperative in understanding how to prevent allergic episodes and adverse health challenges for residents and families alike. 

 Additional tips to help individuals through their food allergy journey include: 

  • If you have a child with a food allergy, ensure they are wearing a medical alert bracelet or necklace notifying others of their food allergy
  • Always carry two epinephrine autoinjectors
  • If you are dining out, alert your waiter and chef of your allergies to certain foods
  • Pack safe, healthy snacks for your child who may not be able to eat the same food as their peers and prevent them from feeling left out.

“People with food allergies must be conscious and organized when eating all the time to avoid their allergen and stay safe,” said FARE.

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