Take me out the ball game (but leave the peanuts at home)

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Depending on who you ask, peanuts are as much a part of baseball as the National Anthem and the seventh inning stretch. (After all, no one takes you out to the ball game for carrots and celery sticks.)

But despite their long-standing tradition as the game day treat of choice, there are plenty of young baseball fans who want nothing to do with peanuts, Cracker Jack or any other nut heavy treat: Children with peanut allergies.

But as a recent Boston Globe article notes, the Red Sox and many other major league teams are making an effort to make their stadiums safer for their nut allergic fans. Fenway management recently made an outdoor, 226-seat section, completely peanut free for a game, and routinely sections off enclosed areas for fans with severe allergies that might not otherwise be able to attend.

 

Behind home plate, Booth F is used by broadcasters for national telecasts, but during other games it is made available to families with allergies dozens of times each season. It can accommodate eight people and tickets cost $55 each, the same price as a seat in the infield grandstand.

As an enclosed space, the booth can be used for people with extreme allergies. Spectators enter and exit the booth through the Red Sox offices, avoiding Fenway’s concourses and an accidental exposure to peanuts or another allergen.

The Sox have periodically offered some form of peanut free section since 2007, and as documented cases of nut allergies continue to rise, it’s likely the trend will continue with more frequency. According to Jennifer LeBovidge, PhD, a psychologist who works with Children’s Division of Allergy and Immunology, the Sox’s willingness to make accommodations to fans with nut allergies is a welcomed sign of the times.

“Small things like other fans cracking peanuts nearby, can lead to anxiety and prevent many kids from experiencing a special a rite of passage enjoyed by so many other children,” she says. “Offerings like this speak to the growing understanding that food allergies are on the rise and can be serious, but also to the fact that safety accommodations can be made to allow children with food allergy to participate in normative childhood activities.”

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In a world where kids with nut allergies have to sit out from many activities with friends because their safety can’t be guaranteed, the chance to feel both included and safe at a popular event like a baseball game is very important.

“Efforts like the ones being made by the Red Sox not only help keep children safe, but just as importantly, allow kids to be kids and focus on the fun of the game experience in a more care-free way,” LeBovidge says.  “That gesture means a lot to many children.”

In the spirit of including kids with food allergies in more public activities, LeBovidge has teamed up with Lynda Schneider, MD, the director of Children’s Allergy Program, and  Michael Pistiner, MD MMSc, an allergy specialist who works with Children’s, to create a workshop for children with food allergies and their parents.

The Food Allergy Coping Skills Workshop meets semiannually, focusing on improving its participants’ knowledge about allergies while giving the children the opportunity to practice allergy management skills with other kids who can empathize with their fears and frustrations.

“As children get older they tend to spend more time out of the direct supervision of parents and other adults, so it’s important for them to develop effective allergy management skills early on,” LeBovidge says. “The group format not only teaches them about allergy, but also lets them obtain emotional support from their peers, practice coping skills and do it all in a safe, fun environment.”

While the children are learning about their allergies and engaging in role playing exercises that will prepare them for common scenarios, such as managing food allergies in social situations, their parents are given up to date allergy management information, which they can later share with their children. “In addition to teaching parents about allergy management, we provide a forum for discussion and support, and give the parents tools to support their children’s development of age-appropriate allergy management skills,” LeBovidge says.

And because the workshops lasts for a few hours, participants have plenty of time to process the information and coping skills they learn; a luxury not always afforded during a visit with an allergist or primary care physician.

“Much of the education and skill building that takes place at these workshops are meant to compliment management strategies these families might get from various sources,” says Pistiner. “Here they’re given the opportunity to discusses these strategies in a social environment, where they feel very involved. The more confident they are in their own knowledge about allergy management the more equipped they will be to educate others and spread allergy awareness beyond the workshop.”

The Food Allergy Coping Skills Workshop lasts about half a day and meets at Children’s Hospital Boston in the morning. Patients of Children’s Allergy Program will receive a flyer in the mail with information on up coming workshops, and whenever possible the workshops are opened to the community at-large. If you and your child are interested in attending, please email Dr. LeBovidge to inquire about future availability. jennifer.lebovidge@childrens.harvard.edu