Guest blogger: Robyn O’Brien and AllergyKids Foundation

Robyn O’Brien, a former Wall Street food industry analyst and mother, is on a mission to restore the health of the American children. She is the founder of the AllergyKids Foundation, an organization designed to protect the 1 in 3 American children with autism, allergies, ADHD and asthma. Robyn has been called “food’s Erin Brockovich” by the New York Times and one of “20 Inspiring Women to Follow on Twitter” by Forbes. In her first book, The Unhealthy Truth, Robyn brings insight, detailed analyses and compassion to her research into the impact that finances and the global food system are having on the health of the American children.

Just when I thought I’d found my groove as a mother of four, life changed one morning over a plate of scrambled eggs when our youngest child had a life-threatening allergic reaction. Up until that point, I hadn’t given much thought about what went into our food, where it came from or how it is regulated, and in all candour, I had rolled my eyes at food allergies. I was a former food industry analyst, with four young children, limited time and a limited budget, and I wasn’t particularly sensitive to any of it and almost entirely ignorant about the dangers in our food supply and the sudden increase in the rates of allergies, autism, ADHD and asthma in American children.

So I was stunned to learn that there had been a doubling of the peanut allergy from 1997-2002 and that according to the Centers for Disease Control, there had been a 265% increase in the rate of hospitalizations related to food allergic reactions. Since a food allergy is defined as when your body sees food proteins as foreign and launches an inflammatory response to drive out the foreign invader, I couldn’t help but ask the question: are there new and perceived “foreign”substances in our food supply?

And that’s when I really started to learn some very disturbing truths. In 1994, farmers began injecting dairy cows with a genetically engineered hormone called recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), which they used to increase milk production in dairy cows. And while, today, milk allergies are the most common food allergies in the United States according to CNN and the Wall Street Journal, no tests have been developed to assess whether these allergies are actually in response to the new proteins introduced in the genetic engineering process that produced rbGH. And these foreign proteins aren’t just showing up in our milk. A few years after scientists got ahold of our dairy, soy began to be genetically engineered and there was a sudden increase in the rates of soy allergies despite the fact that once again, no tests were developed to assess the allergenicity of the novel proteins created in the process.

While correlation is not causation, these statistics were jaw-dropping. Yet when I approached the largest food allergy non-profit about the data, they basically had an allergic reaction to me. So with my background in finance, I pulled their financial statements in an attempt to understand why they might react this way, not only to find out who might be funding their research but also to learn why they had not highlighted the potential risks, novel proteins and novel allergens found in these recently introduced genetically engineered foods. That is when I learned of their financial relationship, and those their medical advisors, with large food and chemical corporations, with some of our nationally-recognized allergists even listed as inventors on some of the patents for these genetically engineered proteins .

Because no tests have been developed to assess the safety of the novel proteins and allergens created in the biotechnological process of genetic engineering, governments of developed countries around the world have exercised precaution and either did not allow these novel proteins into their food supplies or required their labelling so that consumers, especially parents, could make an informed choice when it comes to feeding their loved ones. In the United States, that precautionary measure was never taken, despite the fact that human trials had not been conducted to assess the safety and allergenicity of these novel proteins. Because I could not unlearn that information or that of the financial ties between some of our nation’s most trusted pediatric allergists and big corporations and felt it important to disclose this information in order to inspire and inform parents and caregivers about ways in which they could begin to protect their children with food allergies, autism, ADHD and asthma, I founded the AllergyKids Foundation and wrote The Unhealthy Truth.

And while I am trying my hardest to affect change, I can’t do it alone and appreciate everything that all of you are doing to inspire a health revolution for our children. Because, together, we can affect remarkable change in our food supply, not just for the little kids, but for the “big kids”, too.

Mrs. Q here — I first “met” Robyn on Twitter and was inspired by her story. I am grateful to Robyn for contributing this guest post and she is giving away three copies of her book to readers of the blog. If you would like to be entered into the giveaway, leave a comment below!

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48 Responses to Guest blogger: Robyn O’Brien and AllergyKids Foundation

  1. DramaMama January 27, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    Sounds like an interesting read…I haven't bought bagels in a while and the other day my 5yo was helping me select a flavor for a special treat. At least two of the flavors said 'color added' right on the label! UGH. Why do we need that?? I walked away empty handed, mumbling about their honesty but frustrated that there wasn't a healthier option. Our next trip to 'the big city' will include a visit to a co-op to check and see if they have more naturally made bagels in our budget…since I am learning more, I find I am cooking more on my own, but there are some things (like bagels) that I just don't have the motivation to try yet. Some day…

  2. Sara January 27, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

    While I'm proud to be an American, I'm also ashamed at what our country allows corporations to do to us. Shameful.

    (I'd love to be entered to win a book!)

  3. fromscratchclub January 27, 2011 at 1:55 pm #

    I've been wanting to read Robyn's book since my then one year old had an anaphylaxis reaction to one teaspoon of organic plain yogurt. Since that day, December 9,2009 my son has been tested and has numbers off the charts on soy, dairy, peanuts and tree nuts. He is so allergic that people with "cheesy" fingers touch him, he gets fingerprint hives everywhere. He also has severe eczema and asthma and he's only two. I cry a lot.

    I'm very aware about the food industry so I went into 100% from scratch cooking mode. Its time consuming but I know it's necessary to keep my son safe, thriving and healthy. I do believe that the higher incidents of food allergies must be linked to our industrial food system and our over abundant use of chemicals and drugs either on crops or with feedlot animals.

    Thank you for featuring Robyn on your blog. The more people who are aware of food allergies the better while also giving those who deal with it everyday a voice, a platform. Just the other day a fellow mom, a stranger, fed my son cheese goldfish crackers … I wasn't looking for a second and poof… Her response while I was giving my son Benedryl and getting out the Epi Pen was " Geez it was only one cracker?"

    Okay I've rambled on too long. Again thank you and Robyn keep up the awesome work!!!!!!

  4. Katherine January 27, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    I would love a copy of this book. In the past couple years I have become very concious of what I eat, but for some reason I just glazed over some of the allergen and food dye issues since I'm not directly allergic to anything. But some lightbulb went off recently and reactions to food allergens is the next thing I'm gung-ho to inform myself about! Hopefully I'll get lucky enough to win this book and cross it off my library list.

  5. Keelie Sheridan January 27, 2011 at 2:09 pm #

    Absolutely astonishing. I'd love to read her book!

  6. BusyChica January 27, 2011 at 2:20 pm #

    I firmly believe that we are poisoning ourselves and future generations with our food and chemicals/toxins that are all around us.

    Having two children on the spectrum, I know it's the food and all the chemicals we ingest while eating and breathing that are causing all these allergies, behavior problems, increase in cancer, autism, ADHD, etc. The list is truly long. I wish there were more studies into our food supply, the chemicals we come I to contact each day and the side effects.

    I wish I could grow my own food, raise my own chickens, cows, lambs, salmon and shell fish to ensure that our family was eating truly good food. I do try to buy as much organic and free range as possible, however I feel that food isthinly only problem, we are exposed to so many toxins in our daily life. Food is scratching the surface of the problem, but it is a start and it's better than doing nothing.

  7. Beth January 27, 2011 at 2:21 pm #

    I would love a copy! My daughter has a severe peanut allergy, and I recently blogged about the emotional side of dealing with it: http://fiestabeth.blogspot.com/2011/01/not-easy-to-share.html

  8. Growing in the Son January 27, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

    I'm so thankful for people like you Robyn! You have stepped outside of "the norm" to educate people and I'm thankful. You've helped my little family and I pass the word to all who will listen. It's too important not to. 🙂

  9. Emily January 27, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

    We recently found out that my son has an allergy to both milk and soy. I'd live to read this book and educate myself on the truth about our food! Thanks for the opportunity and great information.

  10. Aimee January 27, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

    This was so informative and interesting. I've really been enjoying the posts recently, and this one is just great as well! I have two kids, one on the spectrum and one with asthma & allergies and I think it's time I start to get real serious about we are eating at home. I've made a few attempts here and there but it's time to make firm committment to getting educated and replacing foods we've been eating for years with alternatives.

    I've been trying to get to her website or blog but can't seem to access it? Does anyone have a better URL? Would LOVE to read this book!

  11. Nicole Rogers January 27, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    Wow, allergies, athsma, ADD, and Autism? Those are things that effect every family. It is criminal what we have been exposed to in our foods.

    I'm looking forward to checking the book out!

  12. chelsadilla January 27, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

    I've heard of her book but didn't know anything about her back story. Sounds like an interesting read!

  13. Shari January 27, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

    I would love a copy of Robyn's book. It sounds like it will be 'eye opening'. my son has an allergy to peanuts and it's been 5 yrs now and we sure have learned a lot over those 5 yrs! it is truly shameful that our country puts wealth over well being!
    thanks for the chance on the book, Shari.

  14. Ms.T January 27, 2011 at 4:00 pm #

    As a substitute para-educator I go into many schools and classrooms. Over the last few years I've seen more and more signs at classroom doors stating that there is a student with allergies and then a list of the allergies to be aware of. It's gone from just a couple classrooms in a school to almost every classroom. This is definitely an important topic as it effects the lives of so many.

    My kids do have some allergies but none of the food allergies have been life threatening. However, both are highly allergic to sulfa based medications. My daughter is sensitive to food colorings. Both are sensitive to dairy, too.

    Thanks for helping get the word out regarding food allergies. I think this is going to become a huge topic in the next few years.

  15. Jennifer W January 27, 2011 at 4:37 pm #

    I'd love a copy. I've been working to transition my husband and myself to healthier, less processed, organic/free range/farmer's market sourced food, since we're thinking of having kids in the next year. It's really astounding to me how many kids now have allergies, and severe ones at that!, compared to when I was in elementary school in the mid-late 80s.

  16. cmomgo January 27, 2011 at 5:28 pm #

    For us, it has been so hard to pinpoint what causes allergies and intolerances. 3 out of 4 of my kids have eczema and I believe the food we eat affects their emotional attitudes too. It is also hard for us to avoid products with ingredients we don't know, but we try! Thank goodness for our local farmers market. I know we are safe there. (bestmomieverhad.blogspot.com)

  17. Heather January 27, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

    I would LOVE to read this book. I am totally with her about how insane it is that we, as consumers, cannot know if products are modified! And add to that even organic could have those genes because of cross pollination…ugh. We shouldn't mess with Mother Nature so much! And the money trail never lies, unfortunately.

    Heather

  18. Jen M. January 27, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

    About 8 years ago I developed a severe sensitivity to a common food preservative, sulfites. Sulfites are in everything from wine and processed meats to sun-dried tomatoes and golden raisins. I have had to become a hard-core label reader to avoid sulfites and I carry an inhaler and epi-pen to counter act the affects when I accidentally ingest a food "product" with sulfites or some variation of them.
    Luckily I enjoy cooking so we cook most meals from scratch, purchasing seasonal fruits & veggies from a CSA share for the last couple of year. Milk comes from a local dairy that we have researched and is packaged in glass bottles. It is a hassle and costly but my husband and I are of the mindset that it is worth paying more for healthy foods that will benefit us and our daughter in the long-term, rather than buying cheap foods that aren't really food at all but a combination of chemicals and additives.

  19. Melissa January 27, 2011 at 5:41 pm #

    As a mother of an autistic child, this urges me to do more research into what we eat. Thanks!

  20. Robyn January 27, 2011 at 5:55 pm #

    Never underestimate your ability to affect change. We are a nation of 300 million eaters (and 75 million kids), and we don't need to wait for legislation to create the change we want to see in our families. We can do this!

  21. Marisa January 27, 2011 at 6:07 pm #

    People ask the question of why food allergies are rising all the time, but they refuse to consider the obvious data available, due to ties of Big Food, Big Pharma, and the government. I hope this changes soon.

  22. Jenny K January 27, 2011 at 6:10 pm #

    Interesting post. I've never thought much about food allergies since we don't seem to have any noticable problems in my family. I would love to know more.

  23. Anonymous January 27, 2011 at 6:16 pm #

    What a very interesting theory your connection poses… you're right, the increase of GM foods is radically on the rise in the US, as are allergies… it's one of those "forehead slapping" moments once you have the facts laid out in black and white, isn't it?

    Keep yelling! The more people begin to agree with you, the more big agro's going to have to answer for.

  24. becboo84 January 27, 2011 at 6:20 pm #

    If I don't win it, I'm going to buy it. Sounds like an awesome read!

  25. Jill January 27, 2011 at 6:26 pm #

    I'd love to read this book. My brother (in his early 40s) has always had a severe (causes anaphlaxis) allergy to poultry. In his early 30s, he ate some organic, free range chickn due to a mix up with an order at a restaurant. He had no reaction. None. (This is a guy who usually gets hives in his respiratory tract from inhaling cooking chicken soup.) He tried some again at home, with no reaction. This proved to him that there is something given to most "commercial" chickens that causes his reaction, but he's been unable to determine what it is. I think this is exactly what she's talking about in this book.

  26. Leigh January 27, 2011 at 6:58 pm #

    My daughter (first child) is allergic to EVERYTHING and I've never known any food allergies to be in my family. I'd love to read this book.

  27. phiguru January 27, 2011 at 7:17 pm #

    I grew up on a farm and later lived in peanut country. I'm saddened by what is considered fancy versus common food. Things that were common to us – grazing the cows, saving seed, and eating seasonally – are now premium practices to so many Americans and downright alien (or criminal) to the agribusiness. I have a mild developmental disability and excema. My doctor recommended that I try eliminating gluten from my diet, but after trying to eat with a celiac kid (wheat is now everywhere!), I just couldn't face it.

    Good on ya, Robyn, for taking this on.

  28. Kate F. January 27, 2011 at 8:03 pm #

    Very interesting thoughts. I would love to read the book.

  29. Krista January 27, 2011 at 8:47 pm #

    I completely agree about the link between food and health. I'm the mother of an "allergic kid" as our naturopath describes him. After battling chronic ear and sinus infections, excema and night waking for 6 years I finally took him to a naturopath. He was tested for allergies and found that he's allergic to wheat, dairy and eggs. Since elminating those three things he is so much healthier. He went from missing school every single month last year to only missing 3 days total so far this year. I tell any mother that talks about their child's struggles, be they education, physical or emotional, to look first at the food they are eating and see where you can clean that up.

  30. lfg January 27, 2011 at 9:07 pm #

    My kids don't have food allergies but my husband has one to poultry. Not eggs, but chicken and turkey. I was afraid my kids might have it but so far so good.

  31. J. Elle January 27, 2011 at 9:45 pm #

    I'd love a copy of the book. I've just recently started researching GMO's and am trying to figure out a way to shift our food purchasing to items without GMO's.

  32. Lisa January 27, 2011 at 10:35 pm #

    Ooh, I would love to read Robyn's book. Such important information!

  33. Paula January 27, 2011 at 11:37 pm #

    Wow! I am going to have to check this book out. My daughter has tree nut allergies and asthma. No food allergies in our family. I have always wondered why and have had trouble answering my daughter's questions as to why she has this and nobody else in our family does.

  34. Mrs. Mac January 27, 2011 at 11:53 pm #

    I'm interested in the drawing as my grandson has a peanut allergy .. he's 3 years old. Frankenfoods are what these big corporations are 'inventing' .. all under the eye of our government .. it's VERY SHAMEFUL that big profits rule.

  35. Amy January 28, 2011 at 2:05 am #

    I am going to have to read this book! While I do a lot of whole foods, we do turn to processed foods… and we don't usually buy organic meat (though my husband hunts, so we do have elk).

    I would love to see a study that identifies the difference in incidence/prevalence of ADHD/Autism/Allergies, etc among the amish and the rest of the "industrialized" US.

    You have to wonder why our tax dollars pay farmers to NOT farm because the GMOs and other "technology" utilized makes farming too efficient… and to allow them all to farm would "glut" the system, and the oversupply would bankrupt the industry. Why not STOP paying them to not farm, and charge fees for GMOs/technology (or outlaw them) so we can be healthy?

  36. Melissa January 28, 2011 at 3:28 am #

    I own this book and I can honestly say it is quite possibly my favorite book. I actually have a love/hate relationship with it! I love it for the sheer fact that Robyn has uncovered so much shocking information. I have truly learned a great deal from her words. I hate this book because it is full of sad/shocking/unbelieveable stats and info (gag…the dairy chapter!). My heart and mind almost doesn't know how to process everything.

    I sought out this book last year in my on-going quest to help figure out WHY my child has such severe food allergies. I found comfort in reading Robyn's words, knowing that she, too, has probably felt the same array of emotions I have felt. Because of her research I totally changed how my family eats and how we look at food choices.

    I am forever grateful to Robyn for writting and sharing her research.

  37. Shereen January 28, 2011 at 4:11 am #

    What a timely post for me. I was just thinking yesterday about how the rise in autism rates is surely connected to food, as well as the other chemicals in our environments.

    As for allergies, I think part of the rise might also have to do with over-sanitizing our environment as well. I have read that kids who grow up on farms and around animals have much fewer allergies, possibly because they are exposed to these things every day. Same thing with food allergies, perhaps. A study done in the UK looked at Jewish infants in Israel who are fed a food with peanut flour as a common first food and the rate of peanut allergies among these kids was much less than the Jewish infants in the UK who weren't fed peanuts until they were 2. I have a severe peanut allergy myself and was very worried about my son (now 16 months) having this allergy as well. I decided to give him peanut butter (organic) around 9 months old, as well as almond butter (Benadryl and phone in hand), and so far he hasn't had a reaction to either. I know that could change as he gets older, but hopefully we will dodge that bullet.

  38. Kim January 28, 2011 at 6:16 am #

    Robyn's book is going on my "to read" list pronto whether I win it or not. I have some food allergies (kiwi fruit and soy the most severe, shellfish and tree nuts to a lesser degree) along with allergies to penicillin, codeine, and iodine. I also have asthma (triggered most often by cigarette smoke, automobile exhaust fumes, and respiratory infections) and I develop eczema if I come into contact with fabric softeners, especially dryer sheets. The adhesive on some band-aids and adhesive tape gives me hives. Both of my parents suffered from allergies including many food allergies.

    My heart goes out to kids (and their parents) who suffer from allergies and sensitivities of any kind. They're scary, they make you feel lousy, they're a pain in the neck, and it's no fun to be different from other kids.

  39. Kiwi January 28, 2011 at 9:35 am #

    The only food allergies I've ever had were a small reaction to strawberries and tomatoes when I was young. I'd eat them off of my neighbor's plants and get hives. Luckily I have grown out of this. I'm mostly an adult now and responsible for preparing my own food. I don't know when I became such a "hippie" but I've been into preparing my own food and reading labels. My parents usually cooked dinner but we often had packaged food and generic store meat probably teaming with growth hormones and who knows what else so I don't know where I picked up my habits.

    I don't have any kids now but I am planning. There are so many things to read up on. Things have really changed since I was a kid. Hopefully I will be able to be a stay at home mom so that i can make most of our food from scratch and try to get away from dangerous products marketed towards kids.

    I have also entertained the idea of raising chickens and having a garden.

    Anyway, before my post gets to long, I'd love to check out this book. It sounds horrifying but something that everyone should read. People need to pay attention to what is happening to the products we consume. I think we are starting to get there, slowly but surely (or it just seems like that because i live in Oregon).

  40. Kate @ Sacred Bee January 28, 2011 at 6:56 pm #

    It never ceases to amaze me what some good elbow-grease digging will find in our food system. These are our children that are eating this garbage. Thank you Robyn and Mrs. Q for shedding some more light on this disturbing, and oh-so-worthwhile, subject.

  41. Zhana Sandeva January 29, 2011 at 2:09 am #

    My mom used to have an allergy to strawberries, but it turned out that it was the symptom of a curable underlying problem, so it's all gone now. I feel truly blessed for not having any allergies that I know of, and I admire the courage of everyone who has such problems. I would like to read the book to find out if there is any chance I might get an allergy later in life from the questionable substances stuffed in commercially produced food. Also, I am sure it would make me more helpful and understanding towards people with allergies.

  42. jenna January 29, 2011 at 3:11 am #

    i want a copy, always so much more to learn about what humans are reacting to in modern food. thanks for sharing.

  43. The Whitesel Family January 29, 2011 at 9:32 am #

    Looking back, I am horrified at what I fed my son when he was a baby and toddler. Jarred baby food, colored Cheerios, etc. He has suffered from eczema and ADHD in his young life (he's now 6). We have really cleaned up our eating in recent years (mostly organic, local when we can, mostly non-processed, real food). His eczema and ADHD symptoms have really decreased significantly, which could be attributed to age, but I'd like to think it has something to do with the changes in his diet. I have trained my son, without even realizing it or doing it intentionally, to question what he eats and turn down junk food whereever he goes. My niece and nephew will not eat some of the things I try to feed them — i.e. wheat bread, plain cheerios, organic milk, etc. I would love to entered to win this book, thanks!

  44. Andrea January 30, 2011 at 1:33 am #

    I'll have to add this one to my reading list. It looks really good, and very insightful.

  45. missfrizzly January 30, 2011 at 7:55 pm #

    as an elementary school nurse and a new mom of a 5.5 month old, i am very interested in this issue and i see it in practice, every day – we have a huge number of food-allergic kids in our school, while i can remember only 1 or 2 kids with allergies when i was growing up…i would love a chance to win a copy of robyn's book, it sounds very informative!

  46. 4megsmusing February 1, 2011 at 8:23 pm #

    Always trying to educate myself about the food we eat, and the choices I can make as a consumer. I would love a copy of this book!

  47. Wendy February 15, 2011 at 8:03 pm #

    I'd like to know more, although I'm a little afraid to know all of the dirty secrets of the food industry. My son was recently diagnosed with environmental allergies and it was recommended that we get him tested for food allergies. I'm trying to figure out all of the changes that we need to make in our lives to deal with his allergies.

  48. Tracy October 13, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    I have been following this movement for a couple years now. For the past 8 years, I have protected my son, born 9 weeks early and has numerous allergies and my full-term daughter, soon to be 4 y.o, from so many food related issues. Both my children are lactose intolerant; as is mom and dad. From the very beginning of my son and daughter’s lives, I have controlled what they consume. Most times, at a higher expense than the processed foods that is offered to the public. Today, I rely on food stamps and free meals at school. My son does not eat most of what he is given on his lunch tray and relies on his snack to get through the day. He generally comes home with a stomach ache, gassiness and hungry. His school offers a good variety but I do not know the source of what they serve.
    If Michelle Obama can be so proactive on children’s health, why can’t the government implement better food? Instead of sending money out of the country to feed starving children and stabilize other countries, the US government should be protecting it’s own by feeding the children good, nutritious food instead of cutting corners. Feeding our school children would better support our farms and probably open up jobs. Instead of opening a package and dumping it on a pan, making food from scratch would really help the economy as well our children’s gastronomy.
    If the government can put a mother in jail for not sending a child to school, why can’t they be held RESPONSIBLE for what they provide for our children?

    Thank you for your diligence in your pursuits!

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