Halloween can be tricky for kids with food allergies.
How do you get to enjoy the treat part of Halloween Night if you’re susceptible to potentially life-threatening reactions when exposed to the wrong candy?
It’s a common concern. About one in 13 kids have food allergies, and the most common stem from some of the most basic ingredients in Halloween treats: milk, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts and tree nuts (fish and shellfish round out the list, but you usually don’t hand out a bottle of fish sauce to trick-or-treaters).
Many candies have multiple potential allergens as ingredients, including some of the most popular Halloween choices, such as Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (sugar, milk, peanuts, soy) and M&Ms (sugar, milk, soy).
So, what’s a kid (and parents) to do?
Check out the Teal Pumpkin Project, a nationwide effort to raise awareness of food allergies and to certify that you are handing out non-food treats on the big night.
The nonprofit Food Allergy Research & Education effort’s Teal Pumpkin campaign is in its second year, with a goal to sign up 100,000 households this year to pledge that they will dole out only non-food treats for Halloween.
You can show your support for the project by placing a teal-painted pumpkin on your porch (teal is apparently the color to designate food allergy awareness), or you can print out a paper teal pumpkin if you’re out of teal paint.
There are several households signed up across the area. You can check out a fever map of participants across the world here.
You can help, but it’s still ultimately up to parents to keep their kids safe on Halloween.
“Most people don’t think about these things,” says Dr. Barry K. Feinstein of Advanced Allergy and Asthma of Virginia.
He offers some common-sense tips for kids with allergies, and their parents:
— Don’t eat candy while you’re out on the street, unless your parent says it’s OK.
— Go through each piece, one-by-one, and check the ingredient labels.
There is some good news out there: Feinstein says that the prevalence of allergies, which was on the rise in children, has plateaued recently.
And regarding peanut allergies, conventional wisdom has long had it that peanuts were to be completely avoided and expunged from the environment when a child was at risk for development of a peanut allergy, but Feinstein says that may soon change.
He cites a study released in February showing that exposure of the nuts to infants with a high risk of developing a peanut allergy was safe and actually resulted in an 81 percent reduction in development of allergies.
There's also an event to keep in mind for Halloween next year, the Richmond Food Allergy Friendly Trunk or Treat event.
The Trunk or Treat event was held last week. According to its founder, Alexandria Smith, Costumed participants (trick-or-treaters and their chauffeurs/parents) make the rounds. Trunks are decorated with a theme in mind. The treats are allergen-free confections, toys or other non-food treats. “It’s a lot of fun. The parents go all-out,” Smith says.
About 50 to 60 families participate each year. Her son has a peanut allergy. He still goes trick-or-treating on Halloween, but care must, of course, be exercised. “Every house you go to, there is something not safe for your child,” Smith says.
He’s a Halloween Night costumed avenger for the allergen-prone, according to his mom, telling the neighbors doling out the candy what he can or can’t have, and why. “He basically spends the whole time we are trick-or-treating educating the neighbors,” she says.
You can learn more about the Trunk or Treat by calling 723-1239, or by email at FAFTrunkOrTreat@gmail.com. Make sure the treat you bring has none of the allergens, and that it wasn’t processed in a facility in which allergens were present. Bring the packaging, which will be checked by an organizer.
VCU Researcher Earns National Honors
Dr. Kenneth S. Kendler, director of the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics at Virginia Commonwealth University, has been honored by the National Academy of Medicine.
He is the recipient of the Rhoda and Bernard Sarnat International Prize in Mental Health for his work studying how genes and environment affect development of psychiatric and substance use disorders.
According to a news release from VCU, Kendler focuses on how genes and the environment contribute to the development of major depression, schizophrenia, alcohol-use disorders and other conditions. His work has addressed the relationship among biological, psychological and social contributors to psychiatric and substance use disorders.
“An award like this is important because it means that the scientific work I have done over my career is valued by my peers and colleagues,” he says in the release. “I am honored that they feel I have contributed something of importance to the difficult but critical effort to understand better the etiology of psychiatric and drug use disorders, which are together responsible for so much suffering.”
Kendler shares the recognition with Kay Jamison, a professor of mood disorders at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and an expert on manic-depressive illness.
“Dr. Jamison and Dr. Kendler have each made tremendous contributions to the field of mental health by increasing our understanding of the nature of mental illness and by reducing the stigma associated with it,” says Dr. Victor Dzau, president of the National Academy of Medicine.
The award was presented Monday at the academy’s annual meeting, held in Washington, D.C.