Book – The History of the Peanut Allergy Epidemic

Mar 31

Available in real paper (not as an e-book), this book offers a glimpse into the history of the peanut allergy.
I hope to have a review up in the near future, but in the mean time pick up a copy and tell us what you think.

The History of the Peanut Allergy Epidemic, the first documented history of the rise of peanut allergy, is now available

Written by Heather Fraser a Toronto-based historian and mother of a peanut-allergic child, this meticulously researched book pinpoints the moment of the allergy’s appearance and reveals the perfect storm of social, medical, political and economic factors from which the epidemic has grown.

The epidemic proportions of peanut allergy have spawned intense research into numerous risk factors including peanut consumption, birth month, hygiene, parasite levels and even head size.   And yet, no one has been able to connect the specifics of this surprising epidemic with a functional mechanism of sensitization – how have 2 million children in just the last 20 years become sensitized to this one food?  Neither coincidence nor genetic fluke can explain the speed at which this allergy has spread in children or its peculiar features.   The allergy appears primarily in western countries including the US, Canada, Australia and the UK and in toddlers, boys more often than girls in a ratio greater than 2:1.

The history of food allergy provides some answers starting with Charles Richet who coined the term anaphylaxis in 1913 to describe a sudden and unexpected prevalence of mass allergy related to pharmaceuticals.  Clemens von Pirquet in 1906 called these altered reactions in children allergy.  Combing the literature, Fraser discovered that outbreaks of peanut allergy began to occur only after WW II.  There was a slow but noticeable growth of the allergy in children through the late 1960s up until about 1989. Around 1990, there was an explosion of this allergy just in toddlers.  This moment is well documented by ER records, cohort studies of the time and eyewitness accounts.  Society only recognized the epidemic when this mass of allergic kids showed up for kindergarten.

The surge of peanut and food allergic 4 and 5 year olds took everyone by surprise – school systems, teachers, parents, entire communities.  And it has persisted and worsened.  An estimated 2% of kids living in the US and Canada are peanut allergic.  A 2010 Australian stat indicated that 3% of children living there are allergic to peanut.

How has this happened?  Functionally, there are a limited number of ways in which a person can become anaphylactic to any protein – ingestion, inhalation, through the skin and injection.  Historically there was only one mechanism implicated in mass allergy.  This together with a series of swift, identical alterations in political, social, legal, medical and economic conditions in western societies between 1987 and 1994 the peanut allergy in children tipped into epidemic….  Events unfolded in plain sight.

The History of the Peanut Allergy Epidemic (Innovation Press, 2010) is a must-read for every parent, teacher, and health professional.  Heather Fraser, MA, BA, B.Ed is a Toronto-based writer.  The book consists 211 pages with endnotes, index and appendix showing the global prevalence of the allergy.  Book is $19.99 and available for purchase