May 11, 2006
Contact: Tom Capezzuto
Phone: (973) 972-3000
UMDNJ, Rutgers Team to Avert Severe Food Reactions
in Ask Before You Eat! Campaign
NEW BRUNSWICK-- Researchers from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and Rutgers University have teamed to raise awareness and understanding of dangerous food allergies that may save lives.
The Ask Before You Eat! campaign aims to prevent allergic reactions to foods that can result in a deadly encounter, particularly among the estimated 100,000 children affected in New Jersey. The prevalence is rising, according to an allergist from the UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick. Overall, an estimated 11 million Americans have food allergies.
Statistics indicate from 1997 to 2002, the number of children with peanut allergies doubled in New Jersey, and it remains one of the most severe food allergies, said Dr. Catherine Monteleone of the UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. The only way to prevent potentially harmful reactions from food allergies is to avoid trigger foods.
Dr. Monteleone and Dr. Carol Byrd-Bredbenner, a nutrition researcher at Rutgers, have joined forces with the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services and the New Jersey Restaurant Association to try to prevent attacks in children. A severe food allergy reaction can trigger anaphylactic shock and lead to fatal respiratory failure.
There are eight foods that account for 90 percent of all food-related allergies. They are: peanuts, tree nuts (including cashews and walnuts), milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat. Children often are more susceptible to attacks because parents may be unaware that they have the allergies.
Some allergic reactions, which can occur within seconds, minutes or hours after eating a trigger food, occur more quickly in some people than in others, depending on the severity of the individual allergy.
An allergic reaction occurs typically when the immune system overreacts to a food that it thinks is a harmful invader. Although most allergic reactions are mild and may involve itchy skin, possible hives, indigestion, sneezing or runny nose, those reactions are relatively mild. Conversely, those who are severely allergic may encounter sudden swelling of the tongue, lips or throat that can escalate into a life-threatening situation that requires emergency room treatment. In recent years, foods consisting of peanuts or laced with peanut oil have been at the forefront of many emergency room visits.
When it comes to keeping those with food allergies safe, everyone plays a critical role - even in families that dont have food allergies, Dr. Byrd-Bredbenner said. People sometimes are not aware of how serious food allergies can be. To some of them, it may appear to be acceptable to put peanut butter sandwiches in their childrens lunch, but the lunch could be shared with another child with a food allergy.
Families with members that have food allergies should consult their physician on whether they should have an emergency medical kit equipped with self-injectable epinephrine at school or work, in the event a severe reaction occurs.
The Ask Before You Eat! campaign was mandated by the New Jersey Legislature last year to safeguard residents safe from food allergies, and implemented by Rutgers University through a grant from the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. Dr. Monteleone is a member of the advisory committee for the campaign, created by the Rutgers Food Policy Institute. More may be learned about food allergies and the Ask Before You Eat campaign by visiting www.foodallergy.rutgers.edu .
May 14-20 is Food Allergy Awareness Week.
To arrange an interview with Dr. Monteleone, call Tom Capezzuto at (973) 972-7273.
UMDNJ is the nations largest free-standing public health sciences university with more than 5,500 students attending the states three medical schools, its only dental school, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, a school of health related professions, a school of nursing and its only school of public health, on five campuses. Last year, there were more than two million patient visits to UMDNJ facilities and faculty at campuses in Newark, New Brunswick/Piscataway, Scotch Plains, Camden and Stratford. UMDNJ operates University Hospital, a Level 1 Trauma Center in Newark, and University Behavioral HealthCare, a mental health and addiction services network.