Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Hip Hip Hooray for Northwestern University

College makes effort for athletic events to be Peanut Allergy Friendly

As the father of a daughter with a severe, life-threatening peanut food allergy, when I observe an organization make an effort to accommodate people with this affliction I want to give them a public acknowledgement of gratitude because our family has been excluded plenty of times from activities and events due to dangers presented by food allergies.  For the 2014/15 school year, the Northwestern University athletic department will have an official Peanut/Tree Nut (PTN) program.  Forty Wildcat sporting events, including 3 football games, 10 men's basketball games, 6 women's basketball games, 18 volleyball matches and 3 wrestling matches will enforce a peanut/tree nut free environment.  During these events, which include football games versus Cal, Northern Illinois, and Western Illinois, no products containing peanuts or tree nuts will be sold at Ryan Field or Welsh-Ryan Arena.  Both venues will undergo extensive cleaning to ensure no peanut or tree nut materials remain anywhere in the facility.

Mike Polisky
According to Mike Polisky, Deputy Director of Athletics - External Affairs at Northwestern University, in an interview with FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) the school located in the suburban Chicago area city of Evanston, Illinois began investigating doing something to address the exclusion of fans from sporting events due to food allergies after being contacted by the father of a current student.  The father communicated frustration about how his son wouldn't be able to attend football or basketball games because of allergy concerns. "After doing our research and coming to a better understanding of the impact of tree nut and peanut allergies on tens of thousands of people who cannot participate, it made sense to take the next step, said Polisky.  "We decided to break up our seasons to create more opportunities for families to attend Northwestern games in a safe environment."  Now the non-conference games will be peanut/tree nut free and the Big Ten inter-league competitions will allow them.

 In an interview with ESPN, Polisky noted "We just wanted to do the right thing.  This has nothing to do with PR. It's not a business decision...It started out with one father looking out for his son."  He added "It's great for kids' families to be able to attend these games that couldn't participate in things others take for granted."

Northwestern University becomes the first university in the United States to address food allergies at sporting events.  When asked on his thoughts about Northwestern's stance, John Lehr, chief executive officer of FARE stated "We are pleased to see sports teams across the country working to address these issues and we congratulate Northwestern on leading the way in college sports to help ensure families who are managing peanut and tree nut allergies feel welcome." He also noted "attending college sports games is often a family tradition, but for many families managing peanut and tree-nut allergies, the widespread sale and consumption of products with peanuts and tree nuts at athletic events is a deterrent."  According to FARE's website, www.foodallergy.org, the number of children with food allergies to peanuts and tree nuts tripled between 1997 - 2008.

Northwestern also issued a statement regarding its new food allergy policy from Dr. Ruchi Gupta, an associate professor of pediatrics with Northwestern Medicine.  "Now families with nut allergies can enjoy Northwestern University football, basketball and other games worry free," Gupta remarked.  "On the science side, researchers at the Northwestern Food Allergy Research Consortium are working to better understand the cause of food allergy and find treatments."

While I've unfortunately encountered many people who make light of the seriousness of peanut allergies, I've experienced the dangers first hand as I watched my infant daughter surrounded by doctors and nurses in an emergency room cube working to open her swelled shut throat after she'd eaten peanut butter for the first time.  A woman who lives a few miles from our house is still in a coma after she ate ice cream last year that had a peanut covered pretzel in it she wasn't aware of.  Chantel Giacalone went into cardiac arrest and has yet to recover from the incident.  Last year a college freshman , Cameron Fitzpatrick, and 13 year old girl , Natalie Giorgi, both died after accidentally eating food that contained or was contaminated by peanuts.  Food allergies are a serious problem, and a very scary and lonely one, for people who suffer from them and their families.  Helping taking precautions to protect people with peanut allergies shouldn't be considered as taking a freedom away from others but rather as being courteous to others who are suffering from an affliction that they did nothing themselves to cause.  It also shouldn't be about numbers and percentages of the population who actually suffer from allergies to determine whether or not to take action on this topic but rather placing a focus on respecting every human life so that no person  is injured or dies from an incident that could very well have been prevented by some proactive accommodation or safety measure.



If you haven't had an experience before with someone with a peanut or tree nut allergy, I hope this article provided some useful information and insights.   Please be considerate ... way too many people unfortunately aren't.  For more information, visit www.foodallergy.org


  1. Thank you for sharing. My husband's goddaughter has a peanut allergy and before that I had no idea how terrifying it could be. Kudos to Northwestern for making the games friendly for everyone!

  2. What an important step forward! Very cool!

  3. Fortunately I don't have to worry about this allergy, but it's good newa for the families that do have to be careful.

  4. I'm glad you're bringing awareness to this! I don't know anyone personally with peanut allergy, but I know it's very important to be aware of especially if you have kids going back to school.