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Letter To NBC: Jokes About Food Allergies Can Put People in Danger

 

May 12, 2016 

Don Nash
Executive Producer
NBC News TODAY
30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY 10112

Dear Mr. Nash:

On behalf of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) and the more than 15 million Americans living with food allergies, I am writing with some concerns about a recent broadcast on the Today Show entitled “Coming Out of Their Shells.” The segment featured Matt Lauer and Al Roker as they searched for the world’s largest pistachio. In the episode, they make light of and even laugh at nut allergies. They laugh at a written warning about the presence of nuts and joke that “if you have a nut allergy, you are in the wrong place!” Mr. Lauer continues to joke, saying, “Oops! I have a nut allergy!” It concludes with Mr. Roker shouting “Epipen me!” with peals of laughter from both men.

AAFA (www.aafa.org and www.kidswithfoodallergies.org), a not-for-profit organization founded in 1953, is the leading patient organization for people with asthma and allergies, and the oldest asthma and allergy patient group in the world. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 50 million Americans have allergies.i There is no cure for food allergies. Living with food allergy can have negative effects on the quality of  life of patients and their families because they need to remain vigilant about accidental exposures.ii The National Academy of Medicine (NAM) has a project underway to examine critical issues related to food allergy (FA), including the prevalence and severity of FA and its impact on affected individuals, families, and communities; and current understanding of FA as a disease, and in diagnostics, treatments, prevention, and public policy.iii

It is extremely important that people with a nut allergy avoid the presence of nuts and nut products, as contact with their allergen can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction. People with a nut allergy face challenges every day, especially in places where nuts may be present. Warning labels are an important and necessary means of keeping them safe.

During a reaction, patients require the life-saving drug epinephrine and must go to the nearest hospital for follow-up treatment. The very real fear and anxiety that people experience during an allergic reaction (often referred to as an impending sense of doom) is a serious matter.  Making light of this condition hurts our members because it encourages the public not to take the risk of allergic reactions seriously, and this cavalier attitude may make them act in ways that could put an allergic person in danger.

We would welcome the opportunity to educate your network and the cast about the realities of nut and other food allergies so that they and your viewing audience can better understand and recognize the gravity of the disease. We strongly urge you to refrain from this type of programming in the future.

We are available to discuss further. Please feel free to contact me at csennett@aafa.org, or Meryl Bloomrosen, AAFA’s Vice President, Policy, Advocacy and Research at  mbloomrosen@aafa.org.

Regards,

Cary Sennett, MD, PhD President and CEO
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America



i Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Allergies. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/healthcommu.../tips/allergies.html Published 2011. Accessed May 11, 2016.
ii https://www.niaid.nih.gov/topi...archFoodAllergy.aspx
iii http://www.nationalacademies.o...sthash.V46yuiLk.dpuf

Kids With Food Allergies (KFA) is a division of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). AAFA is the largest and oldest nonprofit patient organization dedicated to asthma and allergies. KFA educates families and communities with practical food allergy management strategies to save lives and improve the quality of life for children and their families. Our online community includes public blogs. To post a comment, you will need to register or sign in. Registered members have access to additional specialized support forums for food allergies. Registration is free!

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Comments (10)

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Thank you so much for writing this! 

I saw the clip & it was terribly juvenile. I was more embarrassed for them than offended for families with food allergies.

Son, '04: ana. to dairy; egg (minus baked egg 8/7/17!), peanuts & tree nuts (minus almond), & shellfish (minus shrimp 5/16/16!)... enviro: cat & dog, dust mites, mold; also, penicillin allergy & OAS (oral allergy syndrome) allergic asthma

Daughter, '07: no known allergies; exercise-induced asthma

Son, '10: dust mite & weed allergy; illness-induced asthma

Daughter, '13: no known allergies

Daughter, '18: no known allergies

I applaud your effort to provide education by writing this letter.  Thank you very much for meeting this with a helpful hand.  I have one request as you move forward in providing education and awareness-- In these discussions please be mindful that we need to educate and raise awareness that life-threatening food allergies are not restricted to those with nut & peanut allergy.  

Unfortunately too many people harbor this dangerous misimpression that only nuts cause life threatening reactions.  I am concerned that your explanation regarding life-threatening reactions restricted the discussion only to nuts (while I understand that the context of the Today show segment was in a nut store, the issue is a broader one - making light of life-threatening food allergies... Which affects those who suffer anaphylaxis from many different foods): 

"It is extremely important that people with a nut allergy avoid the presence of nuts and nut products, as contact with their allergen can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction. People with a nut allergy face challenges every day, especially in places where nuts may be present. Warning labels are an important and necessary means of keeping them safe."

When discussing food allergy, I implore the food allergy community to be inclusive and discuss these issues on behalf of the entire community who suffer from life-threatening reactions.

The whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts

Thank you again 

Ac

Hi Stephanie and AC - thanks for stopping by.  Be sure to check out our forums and tell us how food allergies affect you.

******************
Jen
Karli, 6/10/02, allergic to pn (passed tn challenge 1/14), allergic to penicillins and Omnicef, allergic to cats and dogs, sa's, eczema Shelby, 5/2/04, allergic to Omnicef, sa's, cats, eczema Maggie, 9/21/06, allergic to Omnicef, sa's, eczema Casey, 2/14/11, eczema

 

 

You know, I remember seeing Smurfs 2 for the first time.  The birthday party scene had me in stitches.  Of course, other parents didn't think that I should think it was funny.  I wasn't offended at all.  To be honest, I was laughing because I could relate to the experience!  That is exactly what I looked like at birthday parties:  The helicopter mom at the ready with an Epi-Pen. 

As seriously as I take my daughters allergies, I have had to learn to laugh at myself.  I also find that if I take a lighter approach to the subject, people are more likely to listen to what I have to say about food allergies and helping to prevent an allergic reaction. I do often joke about it!  "Thank goodness we are allergic to nuts; I will never have to sit in a mile long drive-thru line at McDonalds!"   The other one I like to joke about is the taste of Sunbutter, because if you have gone your entire life eating peanut butter, your first taste of Sunbutter is horrendous!  I have educated many a person just from things like that.

We have been hospitalized twice for allergic reactions, so please don't take what I am saying as flippant.  I just feel that when we constantly blow the whistle when it comes to things like this, we end up shut out and seen as overbearing. This letter could have been a little less harsh. 

DD Maizah (4) PN, TN, and egg allergy

Ellie, I agree that humor and self-deprecation are priceless tools to have at the ready when dealing with food allergies. I've never wanted to be THAT mom even when I've HAD to be that mom. 

The best solution, of course, is if I could zap FA out of existence once and for all.

Cynthia

DD - 18 corn and apple, peanut, oat and soy 

Me - Avoiding celery in processed foods after RXN to celery

Learn the basics of food allergy management with KFA's online course - Enroll Today!

Nice to see this segment with Al. I wonder, did Today reach our to AAFA for help with it?

http://www.today.com/video/al-...pidemic-691759171921

Son, '04: ana. to dairy; egg (minus baked egg 8/7/17!), peanuts & tree nuts (minus almond), & shellfish (minus shrimp 5/16/16!)... enviro: cat & dog, dust mites, mold; also, penicillin allergy & OAS (oral allergy syndrome) allergic asthma

Daughter, '07: no known allergies; exercise-induced asthma

Son, '10: dust mite & weed allergy; illness-induced asthma

Daughter, '13: no known allergies

Daughter, '18: no known allergies

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