It used to be that the U.S. and the U.K. were two countries separated by a common language. Today the joke is less funny: they are two countries joined by the fear that danger is lurking in every bite of food. In both countries, surveys reveal that as much as one-third of the population believes that they have some kind of food allergy. The real number is probably closer to four percent and may be much less.
The California Milk Processor Board (CMPB), yes, the Got Milk? people, sponsored a poll about attitudes toward dairy. Apparently, they're right to worry. Dairy has become such a scare word to parents that they yank milk away from their children at the first round of symptoms.
In a press release the CMPB wrote:
From August 14th to 22nd, Market Tools surveyed 551 California parents online to gauge food-allergy and lactose-intolerance awareness and milk allergies as a health concern for their children.
-- Sixty-three percent (63%) of California parents eliminate milk from their child's diet at the first sign of a food-related health issue.
-- Forty percent (40%) of parents do not consult a doctor before eliminating foods from their child's diet.
You don't have to support Dairy trade organizations to believe that these attitudes are widespread among parents or that they are wrongheaded.
Parents shouldn't try to self-diagnose what may be a simple intestinal reaction. And they especially shouldn't remove a food based on fear. The release also said:
"Medical self-diagnosis is risky business," says Dr. Stuart Epstein, Beverly Hills Allergist, Associate Clinical Professor David Geffen UCLA School of Medicine and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Attending Allergist. "Without professional advice, suffering is almost always extended and important foods eliminated unnecessarily."
"Parents are sometimes quick to point the finger at cow's milk when their child comes down with unexplained symptoms like intestinal problems or allergic reactions," stresses Dr. Epstein. "Eliminating milk from your diet, especially a child's diet, without talking to your doctor first, is not a smart idea."
They point to the recent guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatricians supporting the continuing use of dairy products among children with lactose intolerance.
True dairy allergies are a different and more serious issue and they are something that the CMPB ducks almost entirely. Although many parents tell me they have had a hard time getting their pediatricians to recognize dairy allergies in their children, that tells me more that they have the wrong doctor than that allergies are omnipresent. Although it's perfectly possible to raise healthy children without milk, the right doctor should be found and talked to somewhere along the way, preferably early in the process. Too many other problems share symptoms with lactose intolerance and dairy allergies in children. Parents should get the answers – the right answers – before taking action. Don't give in to fear. Fear can be conquered with good information. And there's plenty of it out there.