Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott is speaking out to raise awareness for children living with food allergies as schools reopen in Western New York.
The cause is personal to McDermott, whose oldest daughter was born with a severe nut and tree nut allergy. His son has a sesame allergy.
"We've experienced now firsthand having to use the EpiPen when foods that my daughter is allergic to have been consumed, and it's not fun, I can promise you that," McDermott said.
"… As we go back to school, people need to be aware of these underlying conditions. Also, for people in particular who aren't affected to be conscientiousness of those kids in those rooms that are affected by this because these are severe and, in some cases, possibly deadly situations."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report food allergies affect an estimated one in 13 children in the United States, about two students per classroom. The prevalence of peanut or tree nut allergies appears to have more than tripled between 1997 and 2008.
McDermott admits he was unaware of how food allergies affected families before they hit close to home. Vacation preparation includes knowing the locations of nearest hospitals and urgent care facilities. His daughter carries an EpiPen at all times in case of accidental exposure.
The biggest hurdle, McDermott said, is a lack of understanding on how exposure even in production stages can cause allergic reactions. While a dish may not contain nuts on the surface, ingredients that came into contact with nuts at any point can still be harmful.
"The ingredients in what we're about to eat may have been around peanuts and tree nuts in a facility that another ingredient was made in," he said. "So, the trace of it sometimes can set it off."
The solution, the coach says, is for parents to educate themselves and inspect labels before sending food into the classroom if their child is classmates with someone living with a food allergy. FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) provides the following resources for families:
· A back-to-school guide with essential resources for parents, including a food allergy checklist, advice for parents and children, and emergency care plans.
· Food Allergy 101, an introduction to food allergies with statistics, information on how to read a food label, and more.
"Education is key," McDermott said. "Awareness is key. And again, just being able to be aware of those kids that don't have those EpiPens and how severe this can be if they don't have the resources to help them if they get in a bad situation because they've been exposed to what they're allergic to."