FRIDAY, Sept. 12, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Too few students with asthma and food allergies have emergency plans in place at school, which can leave the schools inadequately prepared in a health crisis, a new survey finds.
Just half of students with food allergies and only one in four kids with asthma have emergency action plans in place at their school to help manage serious reactions, according to researchers at Northwestern University. The researchers cautioned that many schools are not well prepared to deal with the daily needs of these students and effectively handle potentially life-threatening situations.
"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," said study lead author Dr. Ruchi Gupta, an associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine, in a university news release. "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."
In conducting the study, published this week in Pediatrics, the researchers examined the database of Chicago Public Schools, the third largest school district in the United States.
After identifying all the students with asthma and food allergies, they found that underserved students were particularly vulnerable: Students from low-income families or those in racial and ethnic minorities were less likely to have a plan.
Schools must have a health management plan for each child with asthma or an allergy, the researchers advised. This plan, which is devised by a child's doctor, outlines any special requirements or medications the child needs as well as what must be done in the event of an emergency. These plans should be kept on file at school.
"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," study co-author Dr. Stephanie A. Whyte, chief health officer of Chicago Public Schools, said in the news release.
The researchers noted that 9.3 percent of the students with asthma also had a food allergy, and students with both chronic conditions were more likely to have an action plan on file at school.
Chronic medical conditions affect up to 25 percent of children in the United States. The most common conditions are asthma and food allergies.
"This is definitely a national problem in schools around the country," concluded Gupta, who is also a physician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. "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."
The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology provides more information on back to school safety for students with allergies and asthma.
SOURCE: Northwestern University, news release, Sept. 8, 2014
-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
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