Once upon a time, you invited some children round for your own child’s birthday party. You gave them some games, some cheese sandwiches, some sausages on sticks, and possibly jelly and ice cream. The child blew out some candles and you gave everyone a piece of birthday cake. Then they all went home.
Not any more. One child will turn up and be gluten-free so can’t have the sandwiches or the cake. Another will be dairy-free so can’t have the sandwiches or the ice cream. Another will have a parent who objects to the gelatine in the jelly, another a parent who objects to the sausages. And, by the way, don’t you think those cocktail sticks are a tad dangerous?
Not one child will be barred from eating those foods because they don’t like them but because they are allergic to them. Allergic children are more common than they used to be. The number of hospital admissions for allergic reactions and anaphylactic shocks in England increased by more than a third between 2011 and 2016.
Around 5 – 8% of children have a proven food allergy (PDF).
Why are allergies on the rise? Why are we suddenly coming out in rashes so often? Is it because we’re too zealous with the spray bleach on the kitchen counters?
Is it because we indulge in too many fizzy drinks?
Is it because we don’t have a pet dog?
The truth is, no-one actually knows. Although there are lots of people busy finding out.
I understand you have to be careful. People with food allergies need to be extremely vigilant about what they eat because they could die if they eat it.
It just makes me look back on the birthday parties of the past with a certain fondness. I never for one moment had to worry about the potential fatal nature of the peanuts or the cake.
But put that cocktail stick down, please, Timmy.