Schools aren’t prepared to handle food allergies

"This is definitely a national problem in schools around the country," says Ruchi Gupta. (Credit: iStockphoto)

Most schools are not prepared to handle daily needs or, more seriously, a medical emergency for a child who has asthma or food allergies.

Only one in four students with asthma and half of children with food allergies have emergency health management plans in place, leaving schools inadequately prepared to manage often life-threatening medical conditions, say researchers.


“Given the amount of time kids spend in school, it’s critical for school staff, clinicians, and parents to make sure there’s a health management plan in place for students with health conditions,” says Ruchi Gupta, associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and lead author of the study that is published in Pediatrics.

“Not having a health management plan leaves students without a vital safety net during the school day. With kids now returning to school, this is the time to get it done.”

25% of children

In order for schools to be well prepared to handle these medical conditions, including daily control of students’ health and emergencies, personnel need to have a health management plan from the child’s clinician on file. Chronic medical conditions affect up to 25 percent of children in the US with asthma and food allergies being among the most common.


A health management plan specifies special requirements for the child during school if medications are needed, and what to do in case of an emergency.

The study, a partnership between Northwestern and Chicago Public Schools (CPS), focuses on understanding a school district’s chronic disease reporting and management process in order to better serve the health care needs of students with conditions such as asthma and food allergies.

“CPS and Northwestern have worked together to develop promotional tools to increase the identification and verification of students with chronic conditions based on the findings of our collaborative research,” says coauthor Stephanie A. Whyte, chief health officer of CPS. “All students with chronic health conditions should have a plan that supports their health and safety while in school, because healthy students are better learners.”

Most vulnerable kids

Researchers looked at the database of CPS, the third largest school district in the US, to identify students with asthma and food allergies and found only one in four students with asthma and half of students with a food allergy had a school health management plan.

CPS students were less likely to have a plan in place if they were a racial/ethnic minority and if they were low income, measured by whether they qualified for a free or reduced-price lunch.

The findings bring to light the under-utilization of school health management plans district wide and underscores the fact that the most under-served students are left particularly vulnerable.

Many students also had more than one chronic condition. Of asthmatic students, 9.3 percent had a food allergy; of food allergic students, 40.1 percent had asthma. Students with both conditions were more likely to have a management plan on file.

“This is definitely a national problem in schools around the country,” Gupta says. “We think the situation in Chicago schools is representative of schools everywhere. It’s critical for all students with any chronic condition to have a health management plan in place at school.”

Mylan Specialty, LP and Northwestern University’s Alliance for Research in Chicagoland Communities funded the study.

Source: Northwestern University