Feb
01

As a parent of a child with food allergies, I’m grateful that doctors and scientists are holding research trials with the hopes to find a cure or lessen the life-threatening nature of food allergies. It seems every few months a new food allergy study is published to share the results of the latest trial either in the US or over seas. I follow the news and read the articles, I talk about them with other food allergy parents. I wonder what it means for my daughter and her future.

Some of these trials get more attention than others. A study from the U.K. was published this week by news outlets around the world. Honestly I was surprised how much attention it received, given similar studies in the US, using peanut flour to desensitize people, had not proven effective over long periods of time.

This particular study showed promising results in that after completing the trial, patients could consume up to 5 peanuts without suffering a severe reaction. The goal of these doctors is to help these children so that if they accidentally ingest a peanut or food with small amount of peanuts that they won’t die. It is not meant to CURE the allergy and it doesn’t mean they can start eating Snickers candy bars.

A few of my friends and I had been watching the headlines roll in, some of them misleading talking about a cure. We shook our heads and moved on… but when my friend Jenny at Multiple Food Allergy Help shared a picture of Time Magazine’s tweet on her Facebook page, I got angry.

Not only the tweet used this language, but when I clicked on the link, I saw the article did as well. Quite a few comments on the web page complained about the misleading headline.

 

I checked out what they had posted on Facebook.

 

The Facebook post used “might” in front of cure, which helps, and they didn’t instruct anyone to actually feed their child peanuts… so that’s better… but there’s still work to be done with the article and tweet…

Here are three reasons I’m concerned:

1. The doctors and scientists leading the study never claimed to have found a cure. Using the word cure in the headline implies this happened. This is inaccurate and journalists and editors should know better than to exaggerate the results of a clinical study.

2. The headline appears to be directed towards parents and instructs them what to do: “Cure your children’s peanut allergy by feeding them peanuts” – since when is it okay for TIME to give medical advice to parents on how to cure a severe, life-threatening illness? This is is irresponsible and unethical.

3. The claim that feeding your child peanuts can cure them is incredibly dangerous. If you read the article, you’ll see that the scientists gave the patients microscopic doses of peanut flour and gradually increased the amount they could consume. If a person actually tried to feed a child a peanut without the gradual increase of the peanut flour over a period of time, they are risking that child’s life.

Food allergies are very misunderstood by the general population. Some people may read this headline or tweet and get the wrong idea. Well meaning grandparents may claim that they read on Time’s web site that it’s okay to feed  a peanut-allergic child peanuts in order to build up their tolerance. Uninformed daycare providers, teachers or other students at school may feed a child a peanut thinking they are doing them a favor. Yes, things like this happen. Some people believe “a little bit won’t hurt” when in fact, children like Ammaria Johnson, age 7, have died at school from finding and eating ONE PEANUT a friend gave her on the playground. See that news story here.

We cannot assume that every person reading a tweet or article is able to use sound judgment and not “Try this at home.” We need to rely on journalists and editors to present study trial results in a careful, accurate and ethical manner. Snappy headlines do not trump the safety of our children.

I have also shared my concerns in a letter to the editor asking them to change the headline and delete the tweet. I’ve also tweeted concerns to @TIME  asking the same thing.

I’m not the only person concerned or upset – since I first started tweeting about the headline this morning, food allergy organizations such as FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education organization), other food allergy moms and supporters began tweeting at @Time and writing letters to ask the headline to be changed.

UPDATE (great news):

Tweeting directly to the article’s author, Alexandra Sifferlin @acsifferlin seems to have made a difference:

… and then I tagged her when I tweeted out this blog post, and five minutes later she responded:

Thank you Alexandra for correcting the headline. I truly appreciate it. The new headline is MUCH better:

 

I’d also like to thank Time for allowing the change and offer up a big thanks to FARE and the hundreds of moms in the food allergy community for standing up for what’s right today. Collectively our voices made a difference.

 

 

This post, and all posts on this blog, are written from my experiences as a parent of a child with food allergies. I am not a medical expert and encourage you to consult with a doctor on your personal medical situation. You can find more of my food allergy posts, tips & recipes on my Food Allergy page. I’d also love to connect with you on my Marketing Mama facebook page and twitter

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3 Responses to “Why I’m worried and upset about TIME’s peanut allergy article (with update)”

 
  1. […] more about the sequence of events, check out Marketing Mama’s excellent blog entry. This entry was posted in Advocacy, Food allergies, Peanut allergy. Bookmark the […]

  2. dana says:

    Nice work Marketing Mama! You provided insight and perspective for the author to respond swiftly. Your approachable language initiated change. Wonderful job! Thank you for your expert writing! So happy.

  3. GREAT job on getting Time to change that very misleading headline. It scares me when a large, well respected news agency shares data since most readers take news at face value.

    I saw that title and then my brain flashed with visions of friends trying to secretly cure their pals of their peanut allergy. Let’s face it, people rarely read to the end of articles.

    As a food allergy parent, thank you for protecting my child.

 

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