Profile: TV’s Nanny Jo Frost on Her Allergies

in Food Allergy
Published: July 16, 2013

newton_120504_1199Job: Parenting expert on TV’s “Family S.O.S. with Jo Frost”
Lives with: multiple food allergies, environmental allergies and asthma

We know her best as Nanny Jo on the former “Supernanny” television show. From 2004 to late 2010, Jo Frost brought order to households where parents had lost control by helping moms and dads learn skills like discipline and follow-through.

But as viewers in almost 100 countries tuned in to see Frost bring peaceful resolution to yet another household gone wild, few realized that the world’s top nanny was having to do her own strict daily managing – of food, pet and environmental allergies.

In the summer of 2012, Jo Frost spoke to Allergic Living magazine’s editor Gwen Smith about how she juggles her busy lifestyle – which today includes a new show for the TLC network and a lot of travel – while keeping her asthma and serious allergies under careful control.

AL’s Gwen Smith: Jo, first, what allergies do you have?

Jo Frost: I’m allergic to all nuts, peanuts, crustaceans and rye. I have asthma and that’s triggered by tobacco, severe changes in weather, pollen, strong household cleaning products, mold, animal dander, lilies. And with perfumes, anything very flowery is a problem for me.

AL: As Nanny Jo, we think of you coming to the rescue of parents with serious discipline problems with young kids. But that meant going into other people’s homes. What challenges have you faced doing that?

JF: I’m really upfront with my allergies. So households remove all foods that could be dangerous for me. The main one is peanut butter – as you do love a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in this country! The PB & Js are out, the kids can’t eat nuts, in some cases, parents do smoke, so I ask them if they can refrain from smoking around me.

Pets get removed as well. A production company makes sure a house is cleaned before I go in it, in case there’s dog hair hanging around or cat hair all over.

AL: When you’re helping families for TV, how long are you in a home?

JF: Just over two weeks, and I’m in their home for about 16 hours a day. Honestly though, [allergy accommodations] have never been an issue. I’ve been in my career as a parental expert for 25 years and have to say, I’ve been incredibly embraced by the American public. The families know I’m trying to help, so I’m given a lot of love. When I go in and say, “I know the kids love peanut butter but I’m allergic to it and I want to be able to kiss and cuddle your kids freely.” They’ll say, “we want you hugging and loving our kids as well.”

I’ve had a couple of occasions where the kids have gotten upset because the pets had to go to a friend’s house. But I say, “Nanny Jo has a severe allergy so that if I’m near the animals, they will make me very ill, and I’ll end up in the hospital”. And then they say, “oh no”. You talk to the children and they’ll say, “OK then Nanny Jo”.

AL: Outside of your work, how do you find accommodations for allergies these days?

JF: I have to say that overall, this country lacks a compassion for those with severe allergies.

AL: Where do you feel that the most?

JF: I am somebody who’s tried very hard to have management of this [asthma and allergies] with the correct medications and awareness. My most unfortunate experience with my allergies has been with American Airlines. [She mentions good traveling experiences with both United and Virgin Airlines.]

My unfortunate experience was that I was met with a crew who had zero empathy toward my condition. When I offered as a solution that I could ask other passengers personally if they would refrain from eating nuts, they told me: “You cannot do that,” and that if I did they would have to get security to take me off the plane. At that point I had passengers who overheard and came up to me saying, “we totally understand and don’t worry, we won’t be eating nuts.”

The crew then said the only way I could fly on this aircraft was if I was to give up my first-class ticket and sit in the back cabin, as they wouldn’t be serving nuts there. It was like it was this self-indulgent fad, as if I’d invented it to maintain some kind of attention-seeking. It was absolutely awful. I was on my way to visit a family, who desperately needed help. I didn’t want a family to suffer as result, so I gave up my seat to this man [in economy]. We swapped seats.

But the crew continued gossiping about me in the front cabin. They looked at me as if I thought I was entitled. I’m just looking to be treated like anyone with a severe allergy: with dignity and compassion.

I felt that this situation had been handled appallingly so I asked if I could see a customer service representative once I got to the gate.

Next: Frost’s words for airline CEOs