Surprising Survey on School Nut Strategies

in Food Allergy, Peanut & Tree Nut
Published: April 16, 2014

Parents whose children do not have nut allergies are more likely to support school-wide nut and peanut restrictions than parents of students with those allergies, according to a new survey.

Fifty-eight percent of parents whose kids did not have allergies were supportive of the idea of allergen-restricted tables or zones in the lunchroom, versus 31 percent of the parents of allergic children.

Surprisingly, nearly half (47 percent) of parents whose children had peanut or nut allergies felt that there should be no restrictions in the lunchroom whatsoever, according to a national children’s health poll conducted by the University of Michigan and C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Only 17 percent of the non-allergic group agreed with this.

Just 22 percent of the allergy group felt a school-wide ban was the answer, while a slightly larger proportion (25 percent) of the non-allergy group would support such a policy.

The survey involved 816 American parents with children aged 5 to 12, with about 5 percent having a child with a peanut or tree nut allergy. The findings were divided based on whether respondents were parents of peanut- or nut-allergic children or not. The parents of non-allergic children showed greater support for the more restrictive policies such as school-wide bans.

“I think that what our study best demonstrates is that there is not one preferred policy, that opinion is highly varied, and that extreme opinion may be limited to a small but vocal minority,” said study author Dr. Matthew Greenhawt, assistant professor of allergy and immunology at the University of Michigan.

The survey’s goal was to examine what parents thought was the best way to manage school lunch for kids with peanut or nut allergies, considering the lack of clear research on which school strategies work best to reduce risk.

Other interesting findings included:

  • 61 percent would support a policy restricting students who share a class with an allergic student from bringing in peanut- or nut-containing products for snack or lunch.
  • 43 percent would support a policy stating that no food is to be brought from home for class parties or special events.
  • 38 percent would support a school-wide restriction on nut or peanut products.

“The take-home message is that most parents of both nut allergic children and non-nut allergic children do not support restrictive policies that ban nut-containing items,” says Dr. Greenhawt. “Both groups may have more mutual respect for the other’s needs than perceived.”

The poll was conducted as part of the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health. See the hospital’s past surveys and reports here.