back to article Harvard prof slams US nut allergy hysteria

A Harvard professor of medical sociology has agreeably warned that increasing hysteria over nut allergies in kids bears the hallmarks of mass psychogenic illness (MPI) - described as "a social network phenomenon involving otherwise healthy people in a cascade of anxiety". Writing in the British Medical Journal, Nicholas A …


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  1. Andrew Moore

    The new Russian Roulette...

    A septic kid and a bag of Revels.

  2. Anonymous Coward

    Surely if we removed all the warnings...

    ... then nut allergy genes would be removed from the pool, and it would no longer be a problem. :-)

  3. Carl



  4. Fred

    Irresponsible article

    Don't you realise some people could be allergic to being called nutters, you callous bastards.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Oh Lester....

    I'm disappointed. This isn't up to your usual standard.

    Have you or this professor ever seen a loved one suffering an allergic reaction to nuts and having to be rushed to the hospital? Have you or this professor ever been the poor bastard on the receiving end of such a reaction?

    If you had then perhaps you wouldn't try to be so cute with that last remark.

    There is over-reaction in all aspects of society and all over the world. We've seen it with the IWF over a 30 year old album cover that has never been judged illegal. We've seen it with people in India burning effigies of Greg Chappell when he was believed to be behind the axing of Sourav Ganguly. I could say we've seen it in various political actions but I'd like to post a comment here without getting political so I won't.

    I'm one of those poor bastards who has to read the ingredients on everything he buys because one wrong ingredient ingested and I'm in the hospital. If I'm lucky and get prompt medical assistance. If not then I'm in a 6ft pine box. It makes for boring shopping trips and boring eating at restaurants.

    I'm a nutter for doing my damndest to make sure that doesn't happen, am I? I'm a nutter for doing my damndest to make sure my other half's son (who also has an allergy) doesn't end up in the hospital? Well pass me the long sleeved jacket.

    What the professor should be highlighting is the fact that in this "I got injured drinking coffee so I'll sue the place I bought it from" mentality, blame claims are now so commonplace any school is going to be exceptionally overcautious lest it get its balls sued off. A lot more common sense and education for the poor sod with the allergy as well as people in positions where they might have to deal with allergies to be more aware of things is what's needed. Common sense, not mass treatment.

    But I'll tell you now, not everyone gets allergy tested. Not everyone knows they have the allergy. Until they're gasping on the floor, panicking and choking. It's not nice to take the piss out of something like that.

    Sure, back everything up with statistics, be detached. I'll ask again Professor, have you ever seen a loved one suffering an allergic reaction to nuts and having to be rushed to the hospital? Have you ever been the poor bastard on the receiving end of such a reaction?

    I'll say it again: common sense and awareness needs to prevail, not mass treatment.

  6. Rob Kidd

    A Solution

    Feed every child in America a load of nuts. The allergic ones are eliminated, everyone else can go about their business. Problem Solved.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Legal implications

    I suspect a lot of these silly situations are more and more being engineered by those afraid of being sued, something not touched on by the article.

    Fear of litigation makes people take polar views by default, policies giving them little leeway to inject a dose of common sense.

    The article is spot on though. We do need to stop and reflect sometimes on these things in the light of other more pressing dangers.

  8. John Colby

    Didn't think that sense came from America

    But obviously I was wrong.

  9. James

    Slam slam slam

    I hereby lay down a challenge to journalists to come up with a verb other than 'slam' to describe this type of article.

  10. Anonymous Coward


    To be fair, the ludicrously extreme precautions he mentions would likely have been taken for fear of litigation, which is hilariously out of control in the US.

  11. Chris Shewchuk

    Nuttin' to see here...

    Commendations to the professor for nicely summarizing a major gripe of mine in a nutshell.

    And nuts to those parents who succumb to mass hysteria, it really drives me... what's that word again? Oh yeah, it drives me buggers.

    Mine's the one with crunchy peanut butter in the left pocket and smooth in the right.

  12. Chris

    the irony is

    that nuts are actually very healthy. How many americans - and brits - are going to die through eating unhealthy food that is 'safe'?

  13. Geoff Kennedy
    Thumb Up

    Preach it!

    I am allergic to several nuts, including peanuts. That being said, I've never had a reaction, unless I actually consumed them.

    There ARE people who are that allergic to certain nuts, however the kids (an their parents) know it and will have communicated it to the schools. If it's not the case, the abundance of caution is really just an abundance of douschebaggery

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Hell yeah!

    About time common sense was used.

    We get the same kind of thing at my kid's school.

  15. Pete Silver badge

    peanuts of mass destruction.

    Take a real, but misunderstood problem. Remove any and all facts and blow it out of all proportion. Allow the panic to feed off itself, coupled with hysterical articles in the press and TV - who's only motivation is to produce enticing headlines to sell more product and you end up in the current situation.

    As sonn as someone comes in as tells people that things aren't really as bad as they think, they're immediately demonised as being everything from insensitive to an agent of evil itself. All you need now are for the politicians to get in on the act, and promise the ignorant and the anxious that decisive action will be taken and you've moved the situation on to something that needs to have "war" declared on it.

    Whether it's peanuts, terrorism, commies, recession, global warming or anything else doesn't matter. Once you've whipped up the rabble into a frenzy there are only two things to do: exploit the situation for all it's worth or go and bomb something. In this case I'd suggest remarketing peanuts as "happy nuts", nuking a few geographically remote - but weak and unrelated countries and blaming it all on the previous administration.

    Problem solved.

  16. Gav

    Think of the children, you insensitive clod!

    Some *children* are allergic to n*ts, and here you've written a page riddled with the word!

    I demand El Reg is hosed down to remove all contamination of it, or you will bear the guilt in the very, very improbable event of a *child* seeing it and going into a fatal allergic shock.

    But you don't care about that, do you? Sure, it's so unlikely that we can safely say it will never, ever happen. But what if it does? One day you may come to rue this reckless and thoughtless behaviour!

  17. Jim Carter

    I just find the whole thing...


    I know, I know...

  18. Alan Walker

    2nd Amendment Rights?

    Yes, peanuts are getting more and more dangerous. Fortunately, we're not from from the 2nd-Amendment kicking in and preserving our right to bear peanuts.

    Before long, they'll be as dangerous as fruit and we'll have to learn self defence...

    Right now, Mr Apricot, come and me with that peanut !!!

    (shoots him, eats the peanut)

    The deceased, Mr Apricot, is now 'elpless


  19. Andy Bright

    Scared Stupid

    Not really sure which is worse, the hysteria he's talking about or his obsession with nuts. His points are well taken, but hardly stops at nut allergies. In Alaska, a place most people would recognise as having more than your average amount of snow, kids are suspended and sometimes expelled from schools for throwing snowballs. It's perceived as an act of extreme violence.

    But that's hardly the worst example. What about no longer failing exams (deferred success) or preventing daycares from buying swingsets and motorised vehicles that sit the child at terrifying heights of nearly 1 foot and move at suicidal speeds of slower than their own walking pace?

    The obsession with cleanliness which ironically gives kids the very allergies and asthma parents are trying to protect them from. Not to mention the new superbugs being created in communities by replicating the use of anti-bacterial cleaners that caused the same problem in hospitals.

    Fear of nuts is just another in the long list of paranoia that ends up causing the very harm that teachers and parents are trying to protect their kids from.

    Soon kids will no longer be able to read books (at the risk of getting a deadly paper cut) or run for fear of falling over. When kids are forceably escorted by 4 adults positioned to catch them no matter which way they *might* fall over, or no longer allowed to eat solids for fear of choking, and parents are reported to children services for failing to bubble wrap them before they're put to bed or sent to school (falling out of bed or slipping on the side walk) we will truly have reached the kind of mass hysteria this guy is talking about.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Is it just me...

    .... or are other folks also misreading "Christakis" as "Christsake"?

    As in "For Christakis, aren't some folks dumb?"

    Paris, for the myriad of nuts (sealed in cans or otherwise) references.

  21. Gary Turner

    How have we survived?

    I am always amazed the human race has survived, considering all those fatally toxic ingestibles dong their damnedest to do us in. People who would eat raw oysters may have a death wish, come to think of it.


  22. Max

    Sadly reminds me of the old but true joke

    Of the back of the peanut bag saying "WARNING: CONTAINS NUTS"

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Flash Photography

    Like the news reports warn people about 'flash photography'? ... How many cases of epileptic fits from flash photography on news programs are there? None?

    They should warn people to grab a rock because there bears are coming.

  24. Watashi

    Food madness

    There was a study a couple of years ago suggesting that most people who think they have serious food allergies actually only have mild intolerances, or have no intolerances at all. Unfortunately we in the West have developed a culture of codependence between 'nomal' people and the authorities. Our governments are so afraid of losing our votes that they enable anxiety related behaviours which are bad for us. Rather than telling middle England voters that they are foolish to obsess about lactose intolerance, they encourage us to get hokus-pokus homeopathic medicine on the NHS!

    Unfortunately, it benifits politicians more to pander to our irrational anxieties than to encourage us to be rational and judgemental. Firstly, by taking a hard scientific stance you lose all the votes of the chronically irrational (of which there are many), and secondly, you encourage everyone else to take a rational attitude to politics, which never helps the incumbant party apply their own irrational policies. Look at it this way - when was the last time you heard government politician call for a greater level of rational thinking throughout society. Right-minded thinking, joined-up thinking, pro-change thinking, yes, but never more rational thinking.

    Of course, in the US its even worse because there is the very rational fear of being sued that organizations have of parents. The chance of a loose peanut killing a child is very small, but the chance of being sued successfully for millions of dollars by a parent because their hypocondriac kid got sick after seeing a peanut on a bus is much, much higher.

  25. Wonderkid
    Thumb Up

    He is spot on...

    ...not many years ago, not a single person I knew (out of the 300 at my school) and in my social circle were alergic to anything other than cats - myself included. I knew one person who claimed to be alergic to nuts, but never showed any symptoms, and this person was very much one to adopt the latest social trend. With more serious threats to life and liberty (such as war) having wained, I think people today have risen up Maslow's list of needs and so seek lesser reason to complain.

    We are all probably guilty of this. If there's a war or other major threat to our the lifestyles we take for granted, people will shift their priorities. Cigar anyone?

  26. Clarissa

    And when that's dealt with...

    ... could he publish something similar on the whole "won't someone think of the children?" (aka every male is a paedophile) stupidity?

  27. Steen Hive


    I'm badly allergic to Yank nuts. They should all have their nuts yanked.

  28. James O'Brien
    Thumb Up

    Reminds me of my own childhood

    Mom was certain I had ADHD so she kept pushing and pushing for the docs to give me pill after pill after pill. Got to a point where I would "take" the pill by washing it down sink.

    Personally school just wasnt challenging enough. Always bored and sleeping because I could just breeze through tests and ace without trouble.

    Hope this message gets spread more so idiots, oh sorry parents, can wake up and smell the coffee.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Never mind the nuts,

    what about the danger of being poisoned by eating cucumbers, a well recognised danger in England up until the Victorian era - although personally I'm more than happy to treat them as poisonous even today.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    I agree ...

    with every word.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As someone with a nut allergy

    These are just ridiculous. On the other hand, the number of foods that contain nuts is equally ridiculous, especially in foods that don't need them at all. It's like they go out of their way to use a nut oil in order to reduce the number of people that can eat it.

  32. Kenny Millar

    At last!

    A voice of sense!

  33. Corrine

    What happened to avoidance?

    While obviously you need a non nut alternative for anything as common as nut allergies... why the hell can't the kids just not eat nuts?

    It only ever took me one bad reaction to learn to avoid certain things as a kid, or has hystaria grown so bad that they're afraid kids will suddenly develop a fatal allergy even though they've been eating them for years?

    While we're at it, ban tomatoes in the schools, I can't eat them, and everyone else should have to suffer with me.

  34. Slaphead
    Paris Hilton


    According to a friend of mine (doctor and research scientist) peanuts are in fact classed as beans. Although I can imagine this is of little consolation to "bean" allergy sufferers.

    Paris of course - I'm sure she knows a thing or two about nuts (probably beans as well)

  35. Peter Lawler
    Paris Hilton

    Just what the world needs ...

    More nuts!

  36. Schultz

    You are what you eat

    Nuts anyone?

  37. GettinSadda

    Simple solution

    Notice on entrance to school:

    "Caution: May contain nuts."

    It works as a get-out-of-court-free on foods, why not on buildings?

  38. Anton Ivanov

    Re: How have we survived?

    The answer is - by having parasites.

    Our remote ancestors had guts full of worms and had no allergy.

    Our fathers and mothers had allergy only if they were "city kids". Those that played outside all day, dug castles in the sand pit with their hands and ate the neighbour's apples with the same hand after that had no allergy. The "clean life" ones that listened to mom and dad and washed their hands regularly had it.

    The problem nowdays is that the life has gotten so clean that it is nearly impossible to get the minimum dose of parasites we all need to keep our IgE busy. There was a spectacular documentary on the subject on the Beeb a couple of years back. A consultant in the Oxford Teaching hospital. Asthma to the point where he could not work. A spoon of worms a week (our clean life de-worms us pretty fast so you have to keep topping up) - no asthma. A group of kids in the Bolivian mountain village. All with NO allergy and all full of worms. Nasty big south American ones. The gift of civilisation - anti-parasite tablets. One year later - asthma, eczema and allergy in more than a quarter of them.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The 15yo nearly died from his nut allergy

    It was all kind freaky. we ordered the same chinese meal that we'd ordered sveral times before....... only this time they'd changed the recipe.

    Within five minutes he was flat on the floor turning a very interesting shade of blue. Strangely enough about a minute after we'd jabbed him with the epipen he wanted to get back up to play on his xbox.

    What is a right pain in the ass is when no one can be actually honest about nuts. food sellers automatically protect themselves by slapping a 'may contain nuts' warning. Nando's and Kinnerton chocolate are honourable mentions.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Oh Lester....

    "I'll ask again Professor, have you ever seen a loved one suffering an allergic reaction to nuts"

    Well you could say the same about anything:

    "Have you ever seen a loved one ... screaming in agony after being hit by a car?"

    "Have you ever seen a loved one ... writhing on the floor after eating seafood?"

    (BTW I'm allergic to white fish)

    You make the point that we should put things into perspective with statistics then spoil it all by ranting on emotionally. Yeah we can all get emotional about something that is close to us.

    The article is spot on in my view.

    The professor isn't saying that nut allergies aren't important - just that there is a proportionality that is missing from the issue at the moment.

  41. Charles Manning

    re: How have we survived?

    Actually, too many of us are surviving... and I don't mean overpopulation.

    What I mean is that nature intends for the sickly to die and not reproduce, thus doing Mr Darwin's work and making a healthier breed of people.

    Instead, we're seeing far too much medical intervention that makes us weaker as a species, forming a growing dependence on medical technology to keep us alive.

    This starts before we are born. Nature is good at preventing reproduction and killing off unborn as a way to weed out defects. Now we stuff the mothers full of fertility drugs and anti-abortant agents to force a new child into the world.

    We then take sickly children and feed them with oxygen and drugs to keep them alive.

    We then intervene in later years with drugs and operations to prevent people from dying from illness.

    When does nature get a chance to do any selection?

    On a personal level, medical care is all very well. We all are, or know someone that, would be dead without medical care (I'd be dead a few times over). But as a species we're not really doing ourselves any favour.

  42. Charles Manning


    Peanuts are legumes. They are closely related to beans (which are also legumes).

    This of course makes a mockery of the whole "nut allergy" thing since a hazelnut is very far from being a peanut.

  43. Anonymous Coward

    @Alan Walker

    "Fortunately, we're not from from the 2nd-Amendment kicking in and preserving our right to bear peanuts."

    I too believe we should all have the right to bare nuts.

  44. Stewart Haywood

    Alergies good

    I am not alergic to anything edible. This has ruined my life because I eat everything I can lay my hands on and have turned into a fat b*st*rd.

    Just off to get a seafood cocktail in peanut sauce.

  45. skeptical i

    Allergic to nuts? Or the chem soup in which they're grown?

    As someone else said above, [cue Grumpy Old Man voice: ] "Back when I was a boyh ... ", I knew folks who were allergic to cats (actually, the dander, saliva, and stuff that collects in their fur), including meself, and if anyone was allergic to nuts or other common foodstuff we would have known about it (especially since PB&J and cowmilk are default kiddie lunch ingredients). So, what this inquiring mind wants to know is whether people are allergic to the nuts themselves, or whether it is the [increasing use of] fertilizer, herbi-/ pesti- cides, or other chemicals used in growing and processing that is causing the problem (either the residues themselves or the chemicals' reaction with the nuts' innate chemistry).

    I agree with those who've stated that "protecting" kids from any and all possible allergens will more or less guaranted that the kids WILL have problems with these substances later in life, due to not having had the chance to develop antibodies.

    Happy face because nutters are always smiling.

  46. Michael Hoffmann Silver badge

    Peanuts Are Not Nuts

    Dozens of comments and not one who notes that going after peanuts under the guise of "nut hysteria" is double wrong.

    Peanuts aren't nuts. I can eat them by the bucket full. But give me a raw walnut and you better be an expert in tracheotomies.

    The ignorance is common and annoying (getting my Kungpao Chicken "castrated" for off-handely mentioning a nut allergy - which Ive had for 3 decades not as a latest trend - sucks).

    And the vapid look on flight attendents faces when I return the bag of nuts and ask for the little bag of peanuts instead.

    Incidentally, I can eat Indian food which is choc-a-block full of nuts. But they are ground down and most importanly cooked. A doctor explained to me that the protein that causes the allergic reaction breaks down under heating. Thank goodness, I don't think I could live without a decent Curry.

  47. Anonymous Coward

    Stop having children, you nutters

    "Think of the children"... meh

    Just stop.

    We already have far too many. Fussing about nut allergies, or MSG allergies, or insect bites, or RSI from excessive text messaging is not relevant.

    We have too many people on the planet. Again: We have TOO MANY people on the planet.

    What part of that is hard to understand?

  48. Anonymous Coward

    Since no one has asked

    Is it true then, that my wife is allergic to my nuts, as she claims?

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    @Oh Lester....

    To paraphrase Sergeant Hulker from Stripes "Lighten up Captain Jamie"

  50. CTG

    Sense of proportion

    My wife is allergic to peanuts - probably not enough to kill her, but she does get pretty sick with even a small trace of peanuts. Our son's school just had a vote on whether to ban all peanut products from the school (there are 2 or 3 kids out of 800 who actually have an allergy). Even my wife thought this was totally over the top, and voted no.

    Fortunately, the result was a resounding No, but even so, the school is still requesting that people "think twice before allowing your kids to bring peanut products to school". Sure, the kids in question need to be careful, but why punish everyone else? I know some kids who will *only* eat peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, so what are they supposed to do, starve? ffs, get a life.

  51. Grant
    Thumb Down

    re: How have we survived?

    "Our remote ancestors had guts full of worms and had no allergy"

    yes, but they generally died very young:

    tribal people in 3rd world countries also have less allergies, but being dead is not a good substitute.

  52. Neoc
    Thumb Down

    I wonder...

    If anyone's done a comparison between the rise of "domestic antiseptics" and the number of children who develop problems like asthma. I look at these commercials which insist that your home must be so clean you can eat off the toilets and it seems to me we are doing our kids a disservice - we seem to be stopping them from coming into "controlled" contact with pathogens and thus they seem to, year on year, develop less and less resistance to various microbes and viruses.

    And let's not get started on the "kills 99.9% of bacteria" products... all it means is that you've left the 0.1% MOST VIRULENT of the bastards alive.

  53. David Barrett


    I have developed an "Anti nut Sticker" it can be fitted to the back of a bag of nuts and when said nuts are consumed it focuses a beam of "Quantum flux hyper sonic quasi-hadron hydro matter (tm)" at the users stomach which renders the nut safe.

    I am selling these from my site

    They are £55 at the moment but with the promo code "REG-HAIRY-NUTS" you get 10% off.




  54. Tom

    Why were they not dropping like flies?

    Back when I went to school and half the students were eating peanut butter for lunch?

    Now that the nut NUTs are happy we are getting "it's not fair, my kid is allergic to seafood/gluten/wheat/milk/...cats.

    Yes cats, it seems that students should be banned from having cats at home because one student is allergic and other students come to school with cat hairs on them.

    More bubble wrap please.

  55. Pete "oranges" B.


    "full of 10-year-olds who, unlike two-year-olds, could actually be told not to eat food off the floor."

    I would very much like to know where you get your ten-year-olds from! All the ones I've known (much less *shudder* been responsible for watching for any period of time) don't have a vocabulary which includes the word "not."

  56. Moss Icely Spaceport

    Don't tell the terrahists

    Is that why i don't get those little bags of nuts on plane trips anymore!?

  57. Adam Azarchs

    Food allergies are serious issues

    I have several food allergies, and I'd be upset if no one took them seriously. They can be a real pain, literally. True, many of them may be due to upbringing, but that's not the kid's fault.

    However, "taking it seriously" doesn't mean "banning the offending foodstuff." I'd wager that for nearly every food ingredient out there, there exists at least one person who's allergic to it. I know people who can't eat any complex carbohydrate. Some diabetics can't eat simple carbohydrates without issues. Nearly every protein can have harmful effects on a some people. That doesn't mean none of us should be able to eat - just that people have a responsibility to be aware of their own allergies and take measures to protect themselves.

    Of course, here in the states there's a major deficiency of self-responsibility. So we ban everything that might hurt someone, and pretty soon we'll all be eating some boring hypoallergenic white paste.

  58. Alan Fisher

    The question remains

    why were fewer people allergic to things when I were a lad than they are today? Nowadays, there is at least one person who is allergic to something or name it, I'll find someone allergic to it on google!

  59. Martin Lyne

    They clearly..

    They don't care about people dying, they care about people *suing*

    If you're alergic to nuts then you'd probably know you were and would rub yourself over recently-nutted floors.

    And if you do: Darwinism.

    Forget about nailbombs, next generation of domestic terrorists will be using peanut and shrimp bombs. Keep your mouths closed! (A handy safety tip from opposition-opposed governments)

  60. Anonymous Coward

    As Mr Pratchett said

    In Discworld II - The Globe: Scientists are working flat out to create a unified theory of everything and to see if anything in the universe does not contain nuts!

  61. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Peanuts Are Not Nuts

    According to biological taxonomy, peanuts are not nuts, but in food labelling they are regarded as nuts, and there is a statistical link between an allergy to peanuts and an allergy to other (what food labellers call) nuts. I don't know why that is. Does anyone know?

    Pine nuts are really not nuts, not even for food labellers, as I understand it. And doughnuts are absolutely definitely not nuts, I think, though perhaps they should ban them from schools anyway. Better safe than sorry, eh, especially when children are involved ...

  62. John Angelico

    @Stop having children, you nutters By Anonymous Coward

    If you believe we have an over-population problem, I would appreciate it you could please lead the way in adopting the solution.

  63. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Ve can breed out zeze allergies simply by killing off ze afflicted.

    Vile ve ar at it, ve can also breed out ze disabled, homos unt jews.

    Can we ditch the frigging eugenics "jokes" now please.

  64. Kieron McCann

    @Captain Jamie

    You were born with defective genes. Do us all a favour, eat a bag of nuts before you pass them on you whingeing little turd.

    Jesus, where is Darwin when you need him?

    Great article by the way - an American with common sense, someone clone him!

  65. ShaggyDoggy

    Not Nuts

    "Of the back of the peanut bag saying "WARNING: CONTAINS NUTS"

    Nope ... FAIL

    Peanuts are LEGUMES NOT NUTS

  66. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Why more allergies today?

    Hmm.. more people perhaps?

    Better medicine to identify problems?

    Better record keeping?

    Better use of communications?


    I don't know if we do have more allergies or not, I think we are a lot more aware of these things these days. I suspect that with our changing living environments in say.. just the last 200 years are probably are having effects on us that we may not have seen before...

    Who knows!?!?

    However, Lester writing an article about nuts and reporting on mass hysteria... well that was always gonna be a winner! Cheers fella!

  67. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Doctor is right...

    I listened to his talk on Radio 4 and he seemed to make a lot of sense. In America, the number of deaths attributed to an alergic response for someone with a severe peanut allergy is much less than being shot, run over, etc. He also mentioned that be removing the nuts from society that it would increase sensitivity.

    We were on a long haul flight and they pulled all products that contained any nuts due to somebody on the flight having a nut allergy. This also included chocolate Snickers bars etc (and revels). Anyone seen with offending items (including their own bags of Revels) were to have them confiscated...

    I remember being on a train, and somebody had commented on why we didn't hear much about nut allergies when we were children. Someone pointed out that they probably just died to a response and doctors were unsure what had caused it.

  68. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What's a nut?

    From merriam-webster:-

    >Etymology: Middle English nute, note, from Old English hnutu; akin to Old High German

    >nuz nut and perhaps to Latin nux nut


    >1 a

    >(1): a hard-shelled dry fruit or seed with a separable rind or shell and interior kernel

    Lets see now, peanut;

    Hard shell? Check.

    Dry fruit or seed? Check.

    Separable rind or shell and interior kernel? Check.

    It seems clear that the definition doesn't proscribe a nut from the legume family from being a nut.

    Perhaps a botanist out there can shed some light on the botanical definition of a nut?

    Perhaps the broad spread of allergies described as "nut" are actually all peanut and it's just cross contamination in the factories that results in the effect coming from all nuts?

    I certainly have a peanut allergy*, although other nuts don't seem to have the same effect some do, creating a minefield when eating anything nut oriented. Cooking doesn't help.

    *Not one that'll kill me, it's just unpleasant. Whenever you mention it to anyone they think you're about to drop dead at the sight of the bloody things though.

  69. Britt Johnston

    @allergy sources

    I'm not an immunologist, but have chased up the question where the allergies come from, especially as they seem so much more prevalent in USA than Europe. Americans also eat more peanuts than Europeans, and peanuts are the largest source of fatal allergic reaction. Peanut allergies are becoming more prevalent.

    Some chemicals are thought to prime allergic reactions: proof is hard to come by, the chemical classes are unclear. Such chemicals wouldn't have to be sprayed on the peanuts, just absorbed somewhere earlier. As mentioned, cleanliness is also considered a source of allergy, an immune overreaction, because the body's defences are short of practice, e.g. children growing up on a farm have less allergies than city children. The chemicals in the cleaners themselves are not under suspicion.

    One likely source of peanut allergies is a toxin from a mould is found in small amounts in peanuts after storage. The same mould grows on many other stored crops, though, so something in the peanut must be particularly effective at triggering the immune reaction.

  70. Thomas Kent
    Thumb Up

    "Peanut Butter Panic"

    Thank God I don't have a nut allergy! I LOVE peanut butter sandwiches, peanut butter on my waffles, even peanut butter ICE CREAM:

  71. IR

    Now and then

    Reasons why people have allergies now, more than before:

    1. People with severe allergic reactions would just die. There was no medical intervention. If your throat swells up then you'd die in minutes and no one knew why. If you had a minor allergy to one of the few foods you had, then you either put up with constant symptoms or you starved. Life was a constant fight for survival, and kids who got ill/weak from an allergy were less likely to make it into the 20% that survived into adulthood. Medical science is much more widely known now, it has moved on a bit from the Will of God being the main cause of illness.

    2. Exposure. We are probably exposed to a thousand times more substances than people even a hundred years ago, let alone 500+ years ago. We touch more substances than Victorians had even named, we eat foods shipped in from around the world. The chances of finding out you are allergic to something is therefore much greater. people who live in mud huts eating only turnips, berries, and goats milk, aren't getting the same exposure as someone who eats Mexican, Thai, Indian, Chinese, Greek, Italian, Cajun food every week.

    3. More people. We meet more people every day than people used to meet in a year. Chances are that we find out about at least one person's allergies through one of those casual conversations. Plus we have much more leisure time, the 7 days a week, 12 hour work days, aren't so common now.

    4. Lack of germs. The more disinfectant used around the house, the more the kids get lots of minor illnesses and allergies from an underworked immune system. This probably gets more credit than it deserves, but it is still a factor.

  72. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    A few comments....

    @ Captain Jamie

    "I'm one of those poor bastards who has to read the ingredients on everything he buys because one wrong ingredient ingested and I'm in the hospital...I'm a nutter for doing my damndest to make sure my other half's son (who also has an allergy) doesn't end up in the hospital?"

    Well, actually, yes. If you had bothered to read the article, you would see that the research suggests that over-emphasis on fear (probably combined with genetic susceptibility, which brings in your son), is responsible for this 'allergy'. It's not a physical thing.

    Would you feel better if we just indicated that it happened to the 'feeble minded'?

    @Britt Johnstone

    "Peanut allergies are becoming more prevalent...Some chemicals are thought to prime allergic reactions: proof is hard to come by, the chemical classes are unclear..."

    Actually, no one has isolated a simple chemical answer. This makes the Professor's assertion that it is psycosomatic in origin much more likely. The brain detects a chemical associated with peanuts and immediately cuts the gagging reflex. What these people need is not more chemicals, but to re-arange their neurons.....

  73. GrahamT

    @What's a nut

    ... with a separable rind or shell and interior kernel

    By that definition, Linux is a nut.

    The peanut/groundnut/monkey nut is a legume as stated before

    Why aren't people who are sensitive to peanuts sensitive to peas and beans? A peanut is botanically closer to a pea than, say, a coconut, but you don't hear of people dying of baked beans or mushy peas.

    There is not enough prominence given to the difference between intolerance and allergy. I am allergic to the house dust mite, but am intolerant of raw milk (oddly cheese doesn't affect me.)

    The allergy can be life threatening, whereas the intolerance is just a pain (in the guts)

    A lot of people talk about being allergic to something, when they are just intolerant

  74. John Savard

    Recent News Item

    Since some children are allergic to nuts, it's reasonable to be concerned about their safety.

    And it's not too surprising organizations will err on the side of caution when formulating standardized policies which must be followed without discretion by their employees when litigation is a concern.

    But I was still amused a few days ago that some brands of dark (but still milk) chocolate bars were recalled from store shelves because 'milk' was accidentally omitted from their list of ingredients. But if they hadn't, I suppose the companies that had to recall their chocolate bars because nuts, although not being an ingredient, weren't listed among the ingredients because of trace contamination, would have complained of favouritism...

  75. herman Silver badge

    2 slices of bread with peanut butter and a glass of milk.

    That is the South African school feeding programme in some regions. If that was the USA, there would have been mas deaths from peanut and milk allergies.

  76. GrahamT

    It has an amusing side.

    There is a stall at our local farmers' market that sells squirrel meat. It has by it a prominently displayed "May contain nuts" sign.

    Well, I though it was funny.

  77. _Susan_

    It's so easy...

    to be witty from a distance isn't it? If we were talking about children in wheelchairs and a request for a ramp would so many of you suggest that we just do them in?

    Adult onset allergies is also on the rise and although I do not wish anyone to have to deal with this, if anyone of the sharp tongued posters were to develop an allergy...I would think it was Karma.

    My daughter has severe food allergies to many foods. She has been rushed to the hospital 5 times with life threatening reactions. Every single time she eats we need to be prepared for a reaction and have her medication close at hand. I have had to tell er on two occasions that she had to go hungry because we didn't have the medication on us (major oversight).

    We are lucky in that we have a wonderful family and friends who are willing to take the few steps it takes to help keep her safe.

    It's not that hard.

  78. Alan Fisher


    Hey mate, I'm not THAT old!! I'm only in my 30's and there seem to have been less allergies then too.....

    I see the Dark Ages comparison but we're only talking about 20 or so years ago here.....that's what I meant..

    It's like "Disorders" (usually the last or close to last letter of a fancy acronym); we had none of those when I were a nipper either, now we've got so many, I've lost count. Now any loony overactive child is ADHD and given loads of drugs...good thing?

    and yes there is a point, I was with a girl years ago and I am of excellent cleanliness, she was borderline OCD (there's one); guess who had more allergies and got ill more often? No I!

  79. Anonymous Coward

    @adam azarks

    pretty soon we'll all be eating some boring hypoallergenic white paste

    Actually, it will by soylent green.

    @garham T - you don't hear of people dying of baked beans

    No, you usually die from the gas from baked beans.

  80. Warhelmet

    Not Genetics

    It can't be genetic. The human genome doesn't change quickly enough to account for the rise in reported numbers of allergies. Of course, there may be a genetic pre-disposition to allergies but it has always existed. The causes of, say, asthma are poorly understood but their does seem to a number of genes that are implicated in terms of an increased disposition towards asthma.

    The Hygiene hypothesis has been mentioned by various posters and it is a pretty good candidate. Other people have also mentioned that there are many novel compounds that exist in our environment that previously were not there. Sensitisation to a particular compound can result in the development of an allergy to that compound - but whether it is reasonable to assume that sensitisation to one compound results in allergies to other compounds is moot. The theory that peanut allergies may be linked to a fungal toxin is not unreasonable, but surely someone would have discovered the toxin and the fungus involved?

    But the professor is right.

  81. Richard Russell

    @Dodgy Geezer

    "If you had bothered to read the article, you would see that the research suggests that over-emphasis on fear (probably combined with genetic susceptibility, which brings in your son), is responsible for this 'allergy'. It's not a physical thing."

    Actually, if you read the article more carefully you see that he says no such thing. He does say that reducing exposure to nuts may increase sensitivity to them, and he also says that what he calls the hysteria about nut allergies is fuelled by fear. He does NOT say that nut allergies are psychosomatic, nor does he suggest that anything non-physical is involved in their development.

  82. Mark
    Paris Hilton


    No text necessary...

  83. William Oakley


    "Can you produce any evidence at all that kids born or conceived "artificially" will be less healthy than those conceived "naturally"?"

    Well generally the artifical methods are only used after natural methods have failed. If natural methods have failed that is in effect Nature being "intelligent" and selecting against the potential offspring. This may not be statistical evidence but I suspect it will sway most intelligent people, and I'm sure that evidence is there if you look.

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