|The UK is seeing a worrying rise in children being hospitalized due to severe allergic reactions, according to data from the National Health Service (NHS) / Photo by: Corinne PERON via 123RF|
The UK is seeing a worrying rise in children being hospitalized due to severe allergic reactions, according to data from the National Health Service (NHS).
Parents of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, the teen who died due to an allergic reaction to eating a Pret a Manger baguette, obtained data that shows an increase in the number of cases of anaphylactic shock in the last five years among children below 18 years old. Experts believe the rise is due to other factors aside from increased awareness and better diagnosis.
The rising figures prompted a coroner to emphasize the need to list allergens on menus to avoid incidents similar to that of Natasha’s.
Increases and Regional Disparities
The NHS data showed that in 2018-2019, the number of hospital admissions for anaphylactic shock in children below 18 was 1,746—that's a 72 percent increase from the figures in 2013-2014 that showed 1,015. That number is much higher for children below 10 years with admissions increasing by 200 percent from 110 to 330 during the same period.
There are also clear regional differences in the data presented, according to The Independent, considering that London has the highest increase in admissions up to 167 percent. The East Midlands follows with a 145 percent increase in the last five years.
|The NHS data showed that in 2018-2019, the number of hospital admissions for anaphylactic shock in children below 18 was 1,746—that's a 72 percent increase from the figures in 2013-2014 that showed 1,015 / Photo by: Chris Dorney via 123RF|
Coming in third is the East of England (84 percent), fourth is West Midlands (59 percent), North West (56 percent), Yorkshire and the Humber tied at sixth (50 percent), South West (24 percent), and South East with the lowest increase (22 percent). The number remained static in the North East across the period.
Increased awareness and better diagnosis of allergies aren't the only factors that boosted the number of admissions, according to experts.
"These new figures confirm what we know is a worrying increase in severe food allergy," said Hasan Arshad, professor of allergy and clinical immunology at the University of Southampton, as per The Independent.
"For far too long, allergies have been considered a minor inconvenience. It is time for us all to focus on preventing and curing [allergies]."
Death Due to Allergies
The NHS data was obtained by the founders of the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation (NARF), a charity campaigning for allergy research and safety following the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse in 2016. That year, 15-year-old Natasha died after suffering a severe allergic reaction to an artichoke, olive, and tapenade baguette.
While the teen was not allergic to any of the said ingredients, she was allergic to sesame seed in the product. Her demise boiled down to the fact that sesame seed wasn't listed on the product's label. She isn't the only one who has suffered because of mislabeled products.
The Telegraph reports a teen dying after he unknowingly ate buttermilk in a burger restaurant despite informing the staff aware of his dairy allergy.
Deaths caused by allergic reactions are uncommon despite the rise of hospitalizations in the UK and elsewhere—with only 1.81 per million person-years of the incidence of fatal reactions, as per a 2018 study. But the dangers of allergic reactions remain.
This prompted a coroner to call for food establishments to list allergens on their menus and warn the risk of future deaths if such information were not made clear. The NARF has been campaigning to put that into legislation since 2018 under the so-called "Natasha's law."
"These terrifying figures show we are facing an allergy emergency," said Tanya Ednan-Laperouse, the mother of the teen and the co-founder of the NARF. "Scientists don't yet understand why the numbers of children with allergies are on the rise, which is why it is vital that we invest in large-scale research projects into both the causes and potential cures."
The proposed law seeks to protect people with allergies from being exposed to allergens by mandating food businesses to provide the full information of ingredients on pre-packaged food labels. It was introduced after Natasha's death and will be fully implemented in the UK by the summer of 2021, according to the BBC.
Businesses in England, Wales, and Northern Island will be given a two-year implementation period to help adapt to changes.
"These changes will make food labels clear and consistent and give the country's two million food allergy sufferers confidence in making safe food choices," Environment Secretary Michael Gove told the British news site.
Pret a Manger, the sandwich chain that sold the baguette to Natasha, said it was "deeply sorry" for the teen's untimely death and vowed to list all ingredients on its freshly made food. A spokesman for the company said they have rolled out full ingredients in over 60 of its shops nationwide.
Prior to this, the spokesman said they conducted a number of pilots to confirm the safety, practicality, and effectivity of their approach.
"We are pleased that the Government has chosen to support full ingredient labeling," he added.
For Tanya and husband Nadim, who campaign for the change in the current rules of food labeling, they were "delighted" by the announcement and said they were grateful for the government's "unflinching support."
|Natasha's law seeks to protect people with allergies from being exposed to allergens by mandating food businesses to provide the full information of ingredients on pre-packaged food labels / Photo by: belchonock via 123RF|