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Obesity and Weight Management

Obesity and peanut-free school

02/14/2008

Question:

An obese child has begun to lose weight by eating a peanut butter sandwich for lunch every day. The school intends to go peanut-free. What would you recommend to deal with both sides of this situation?

Answer:

This is a tough question. Achieving weight loss for a very overweight child is a wonderful achievement and not easily accomplished, so I certainly understand not wanting to "mess with success." And it is important to the child's physical and mental well being to lose weight. It is also important for children to have social experiences along with eating. So separating the peanut butter sandwich eater from friends in the lunch room is not a great solution either.

On the other hand, peanut allergy is alive and well among many children and their numbers are growing. However, the allergens are also controlled well with normal cleansing routines in the cafeteria or lunchroom as well as good hand hygiene, including waterless hand sanitizers.

I can understand the school deciding not to serve peanut products in meals and snacks, keeping peanut products out of classroom celebrations, and instituting better cleansing of tables in the lunch room. Making handwashing before and after meals a routine would be good for everyone as would better cleansing routines in eating areas.

I am less able to understand restricting individual students from their peanut butter sandwiches. Allergic kids know not to eat it and should also have epi pens available for inadvertent exposures. I think I would try to find some happy medium with the school where kids who enjoy peanut products can eat at designated tables, but the school could otherwise restrict preparing and offering peanut product containing foods or having them served at shared classroom celebrations.

I think if the school administration and a consulting physician specialist in allergy put their heads together, they could craft a policy and procedures that would be fair and safe for the students.

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Response by:

Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN
Professor of Clinical Nursing
College of Nursing
The Ohio State University