The voluntary guidelines call on schools to take such steps as restricting nuts, shellfish or other foods that can cause allergic reactions, and make sure emergency allergy medicine — like EpiPens — are available. (AP, File)
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INDEPENDENCE, MO (KCTV/AP) -
The federal government is issuing its first guidelines to schools on how to protect children with food allergies.
The voluntary guidelines call on schools to take such steps as restricting nuts, shellfish or other foods that can cause allergic reactions, and make sure emergency allergy medicine - like EpiPens - are available.
About 15 states - and numerous individual schools or school districts - already have policies of their own.
"We already do most of the things that are put out in these guidelines," said Nancy Lewis, spokeswoman for the Independence School District.
But not all districts do.
"The need is here" for a more comprehensive, standardized way for schools to deal with this issue, said Dr. Wayne Giles, who oversaw development of the advice for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Food allergies are a growing concern. A recent CDC survey estimated that about 1 in 20 U.S. children have food allergies - a 50 percent increase from the late 1990s. Experts aren't sure why cases are rising.
Many food allergies are mild and something children grow out of. But severe cases may cause anaphylactic shock or even death from eating, say, a peanut.
The guidelines released Wednesday were required by a 2011 federal law.
Peanuts, tree nuts, milk and shellfish are among the food that most often trigger reactions. But experts say more than 170 foods are known to cause reactions.
The hope is to ensure no children are excluded from field trips or extracurricular activities while having a safe time.
The new advice calls for schools to do such things as:
Identify children with food allergies.
Have a plan to prevent exposures and manage any reactions.
Train teachers or others how to use medicines like epinephrine injectors, or have medical staff to do the job.
Plan parties or field trips free of foods that might cause a reaction; and designate someone to carry epinephrine.
Make sure classroom activities are inclusive.
For example, don't use Peanut M&M's in a counting lesson, said John Lehr, chief executive of an advocacy group that worked on the guidelines, Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE).
Carolyn Duff, president of the National Association of School Nurses, which worked on the guidelines, said many schools may not have policies on food allergies. "And if they do, maybe the policies aren't really comprehensive," she said.
U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat who worked on the law that led to the guidelines, said in a statement that they are a big step toward giving parents "the confidence that their children will stay safe and healthy at school."
The teachers in the Independence School District have students bring in packaged snacks so that teachers can see what the ingredients are, Lewis said.
Korte Elementary School dietician Misty Newland said they work to ensure students have a variety of food items to choose from while staying away from known triggers like peanuts and shellfish.
"The best method is training with staff," Newland said.
The CDC estimates almost nine out of 10 schools have at least one student with a food allergy.