It takes a village: perceptions of Winnipeg parents, students, teachers and school staff regarding the impact of food allergy on school-age students and their families
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Abstract Background The entire school community contributes to the safety of students with food allergy. We sought to determine the food allergy perceptions and education needs of parents, students and school staff, with the goal of enhancing food allergy education in schools. Methods With ethics approval from the University of Manitoba and participating school divisions, elementary school principals emailed SurveyMonkey® Questionnaire Links to their parent/caregiver contact list and school staff. We compared anonymous responses of parents of children with and without food allergy, students with and without food allergy, and parents and school staff using chi-squared tests. Results Participants included 561 parents of school-age children (ages 7–12 years, 19% with food allergy), 61 students (23% with food allergy), and 203 school staff (62% teachers, 88% with experience managing food allergies in the classroom). Parents of children with and without food allergy considered food allergy when sending food to school (98% vs. 96%, p = 0.39). More parents of children with food allergy thought that greater information and awareness about food allergy was needed (74% vs. 44%, p < 0.0001). Students with food allergy were most interested (100%) in having other students learn not to bully and how to help during a reaction. Students without food allergy were most interested in learning how to prevent a reaction (70%). Fewer parents than school staff thought that food allergies in the classroom impacted teachers’ time (2.1% vs. 21%, p < 0.0001) and that teachers knew how to treat allergic reactions to foods (34% vs. 94%, p < 0.0001). More parents than school staff thought that banning foods from classrooms kept allergic students safe (65% vs. 34%, p = 0.006) and that having a Food Allergy Educator speak at school would be helpful (99% vs. 67%, p < 0.0001). Conclusions Food allergy education is necessary for the entire school community and should include parents of school-aged children with and without food allergy, students with and without food allergy, and teachers and school staff. These members of the school community recognized their own and others’ needs for increased food allergy education and awareness in the school setting.