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Food Allergies in the Media

Updated on March 20, 2018

What The Media Keeps Getting Wrong:

Food allergies are portrayed in a wide range of ways in the media – both positive and negative. The initial image that is presented to an individual about food is often incorrect and uneducated. The food allergy community is frequently stereotyped and depicted in a negative light - this contributes to the spread of misinformation to the public. The image we see of mild skin reactions such as hives or the idea that you can just take antihistamines such as Benadryl is not always correct. Media representations dramatically underplay the life-threatening reaction food allergies can result in – anaphylaxis and even death. There are countless stories of individuals using someone’s allergies as means to bully and hurt others. The media can also be utilized in a positive way to spread accurate information about food allergies, new treatments, positive stories, active campaigns, provide support for the community, and raise awareness. According to the Food Allergy Research and Education Network, 1 in 13 children have a food allergy - the way the media portrays children with food allergies impacts their lives on a daily basis.

Media Misrepresentation

The Tragedy in Peter Rabbit

Most recently in the news, the movie Peter Rabbit had a scene in it that sent shock waves through the food allergies community and created quite an uproar from both activists and people who had strong negative opinions about allergies. Mr. McGregor was attacked by Peter Rabbit and his gang with blackberries which he happens to be severely allergic to. Their intent was malicious knowing he had allergies. However, in the movie he had his EpiPen in hand to save his life and their attack was thwarted. Although this is a children’s movie and there was no true harm to anyone on the set, it still is a terrible sight for those who are allergic and have experienced anaphylaxis in real life. This is a life or death situation.


The media stormed and began to boycott Peter Rabbit the movie. #BoycottPeterRabbit went viral. This is not a joke and people voiced their opinions for the world to hear. Kenneth Mendez, President and CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, wrote an open letter to the makers of Peter Rabbit to educate them on the serious nature of food allergies and how this scene sent waves through the community. Sony responded shortly afterwards with an apology. While the food allergy community was appreciative, many people without food allergies were outraged that they even apologized in the first place incorrectly saying that it was unnecessary and perpetuating the “fragile-minded” nature of allergies.

"Making light of this condition hurts our members because it encourages the public not to take the risk of allergic reactions seriously, and this cavalier attitude may make them act in ways that could put an allergic person in danger." - Kenneth Mendez, President and CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

EpiPens Aren't Always Enough!

An epinephrine auto-injector isn’t always enough to stop anaphylaxis and too many people have died despite epinephrine being injected. An allergic individual should always have an emergency action plan that entails calling 911 as more medication and monitoring may be required. The severity of attacks isn’t portrayed in the media accurately and it is often thought that all someone needs to do is take an antihistamine or jab an EpiPen into their thigh and they will instantly be better. This results in potentially dangerous situations on a daily basis as the public generally doesn’t have the knowledge to prevent harmful environments for an allergic person. The allergic individual is taught soon after their diagnosis to be their own advocate and utilize many tools to ensure they stay safe every day.


Is This A Joke To You?

This is just one of the many examples of food allergies being made fun of in the media. Other examples are when on The Today Show, Matt Lauer and Al Roker made a joke about nut allergies. It was not dismissed by the community of people advocating for allergies. The stand-up comedian Louis CK, an article by Joel Stein in the LA Times, a Party City commercial aired during the Super Bowl, the movies Bad Moms and Boxtrolls, and many more are among the offenders of perpetuating negative stereotypes about food allergies. The media gets it wrong consistently and is ignorant to the fact of how serious it is to those who are affected by it. In the movie Hitch, the main character (played by Will Smith) is on a date and happens to be exposed to shellfish and his eyes, face, and lips swell up – an indicator of anaphylaxis. He then gets taken to the store to buy Benadryl. What should have happened was someone calling 911 and administering epinephrine. He would then be rushed to the hospital to determine if he will need more medication and usually be observation for a second biphasic reaction.

Louis CK - Nut Allergy Offensive Joke

"We Didn't Have Allergies In My Generation..."

Some negative people use the media to speak ill of individuals with allergies and portray them as oversensitive, genetically weak, an inconvenience, overprotected, or more commonly “snowflakes.” People with allergies are often told to "suck it up," asked if the tests are accurate, if they want to try eating their allergy causing foods to see if they are definitely allergic, or if they were kept "too clean and sheltered" as children. Other common statements are that previous generations didn’t have this problem (food allergies have actually been around for a while), that they will grow out of it, or we need to “let kids be kids.” Bullying in person and through social media are all too common as a result of allergies and some have even taken it as far as purposely attacking someone with their allergy as an act of bullyingets taken.

Social media bullying is on the rise and it is not your typical bullying situation. Children and teens all over the world are bullied on a daily-basis. This entails cyber bullying, verbal, emotional, physical bullying, teacher bullying, and peer-to-peer bullying. Often children who are bullied feel depressed and embarrassed, reporting a lower quality of life but are often too afraid to tell an adult. While it may not be the first thing to come to mind, bullying allergic children with their allergen is far too common by exposing them to their allergy with the intent to cause harm. This bullying behavior is a threat to their lives and undermines the safety children should feel at school. No Appetite for Bullying is an initiative created by several advocacy organizations to create awareness, provide solutions, and encourage acceptance.

Things People With Food Allergies Are Tired of Hearing

Benefits of the Media for the Allergy Community

Today, we have many tools to get our message across and that is through social media. In the past, we had limited media options such as newspapers, phone calls, and USPS letters. In recent times we have had a media explosion where new ways to communicate are being developed rapidly. Some products of today’s technology are video chat applications and the ability to live-stream broadcast video from anywhere, anytime. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are effective tools to reiterate our concerns and values. Kids With Food Allergies (KFA) teaches children to utilize the power of imagery and broadcasting to educate those about food allergies. News, new treatments, research, allergy alerts, and more can be shared to reach the right audience and provide them with important information. Going to social media websites is the best plan of action when you want to voice your beliefs and have a better chance at reaching a wide audience.

Advocates and Organizations

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) and Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) are two of the organizations that raise awareness and support the food allergy community. They provide educational tools to keep yourself informed of the dangers of allergies and ways to prevent fatal ones from the start. This is one way for many family and friends to get educated and understand the severity of allergens. They also provide advocacy, research, news, raise awareness, and have support groups. FARE runs two well-known awareness campaigns that rely on social media to speaks the word: The Teal Pumpkin Project and the Food for Thought video series. The Teal Pumpkin Project unites the community and provides safe Halloween treats for allergic children. The Food for Thought video series presents an honest and multi-faceted view of life with allergies.


Let's Get The Facts Straight - The Right Media Sources

According to the Food Allergy Research and Education website, up to 15 million Americans have food allergies and 5.9 million are children under the age of 18 years old. Over 30 percent of children with food allergies tend to have more than one food they are allergic to. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported that in children, food allergies have increased by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. Between 1997 and 2008, U.S. children with peanut and tree nut allergies has more than tripled. Yearly, roughly 200,000 people are rushed to the hospital for emergencies for food related allergic reactions. Every three minutes, someone ends up in the E.R. for a food allergy reaction. Epinephrine is the only effective treatment for anaphylaxis and not being treated immediately (within minutes) increases the risk of death. More than one treatment may be needed and patients need to be seen at the hospital by calling 911 right away. Many people with allergies carry an epinephrine auto-injector for emergency use, such as an EpiPen, and have an emergency action plan in place.

Thankfully these organizations and activists have been working diligently to spread this positive and educated material to the media. A food allergy protects individuals that have their major life activity limited under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The“Top 8” common allergies in foods are milk, eggs, shellfish, fish, tree nuts, peanuts, soy, and wheat. Each one has the potential to cause adverse effects among countless others not in the “Top 8.”


When Food Can Kill You: Coping With Severe Food Allergies | National Geographic

Final Thoughts...

The media is a powerful tool with the ability to be used to share valuable information from a positive perspective and connect with members of the food allergy community. Care must be used to ensure false information and negative comments aren't spread. With the use of media outlets, our hope is that food allergies are some day fully accepted and the public is educated and aware of the correct information. For more information, please see the list of resources below.


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