Gina Clowes is the founder of AllergyMoms.com. We would like to thank her for guest blogging for us and sharing her family's allergy story.
Note: This article was originally written for Health Central: My AllergyNetwork.com. To view the article there, click here.
One of my industry contacts sent me a link to a very interesting study recently released by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). Their report, appropriately titled the 2008 State Honor Roll - Annual Report of the State Asthma and Allergy Policies for Schools, represents a wealth of comparative information in regard to how well each state in the U.S. deals with asthma and allergy in its public schools.
According to the executive summary of the report, "AAFA research and policy experts, in consultation with leaders in the fields of medicine, education and advocacy, identified 18 types of "policy standards" relating to asthma and allergies in schools that currently appear in states across the U.S. Three broad categories of policy types were assessed:
- Medication & Treatment
- School Environment
Researchers determined which states currently had most or all of the 18 policy standards in place and considered these states to be at the forefront asthma and allergy school advocacy. States with a minimum of 15 of the 18 policy standards in place are named "Honor Roll" states. These states represent good models for policymakers, administrators, teachers, parents and advocates in other states."
As a parent of a food allergic child, the first thing I did was dig into the report and find out how my state, Pennsylvania, stacked up. Of course, I found that my state is somewhere in the middle of the pack with regard to the policy stances studied in the document. Nowhere near the bottom, thankfully, but sadly also nowhere near the top.
I was surprised to see that Pennsylvania passed the self-carry law for epinephrine. Sara Shannon (an advocate from Canada who lost her daughter to food allergies) and I worked with Pennsylvania State Senator Orie who sponsored SB731, but the last I heard the bill was in the Pennsylvania House Education Committee. If it has passed, I will very happy to hear it.
But I think the real power of this report is its ability to compare states on these policies, which is something that might be impossible if it were not for this report. Here are a couple of things that I observed and that I thought were especially interesting:
1. The states achieving the highest success in setting policy for asthma and allergy are largely in the northeastern U.S. The exception to that statement is the state of Washington . Why is this? Is it a reaction to the incidence of asthma and allergy in those states (possibly)? Is it the power of advocacy in those states (maybe)? Is it that the legislators in those states are especially wise when it comes to dealing with asthma and allergy policy? For those of us who live in these states, we should be thanking our lucky stars. And for those of us who don't, this report should motivate us to ask our legislators for changes. I think that this report could provide some powerful ammunition.
2. There is a huge variation in asthma and allergy policy from one state to another. Having been involved with food allergy advocacy for years, I guess that I always knew of the differences in policy between states. In certain areas (medication policies, for instance), many states have addressed an important health concern, and this report points that out. But what I wasn't aware of is the vast differences among the states in dealing with other aspects of asthma and allergy policy. The AAFA Honor Roll presents this information in an easy-to-read format, and this could, once again, become a powerful advocacy tool.
There are several areas where I'd love to see improvement in Pennsylvania, my state. For example, it would be wonderful if Pennsylvania legislators would mandate indoor air quality policies or requirements. My sons go to a very old elementary school and I'm sure that the mold takes its toll on kids who have allergies and asthma.
I also think it would be very important to track and report severe asthma and allergic reactions. There are other places where Pennsylvania falls short, for example our state has not mandated "no smoking" on school buses but I'm pretty sure this one is in effect anyway. I can't imagine anyone smoking on a school bus, at least not with permission.
Obviously state laws to protect asthmatic and food allergic children get the attention of school districts. And, this report could be a useful tool to help parents pursue legislation in their states by pointing out what other states have already done. Although I am aware that parents even in the "honor roll" states still have issues keeping their food allergic children safe at school, each of these laws provide another layer of protection and awareness. I
think that this report is long overdue, and I recommend that you spend a few minutes to learn a little more.
- Gina Clowes