Allergic Living editor confronts Chatelaine article

The allergy fur is flying. In an article published on CBC’s national web site today, Gwen Smith, editor of Allergic Living magazine, refutes a Chatelaine article written by Patricia Pearson. Pearson’s “It’s just nuts,” first ran in the December 2009 print issue and is now online.

“In Canada, getting taken down in Chatelaine is as close as it gets to being kneecapped by Oprah,” Smith contends in “What’s Nuts, Chatelaine, is not to be Concerned.”

Smith founded Allergic Living, a Toronto-based independent magazine focused on allergy and asthma. [Disclosure: I have contributed to Allergic Living. I teach journalism at Mount Royal University.]

Smith is food allergic and has ended up in emergency wards with anaphylaxis, the life threatening reaction to food allergy.

She didn’t want to be interviewed, other than to say she has respect for Chatelaine as a credible source of health information and would like the magazine to review the statistics presented. She cautions journalists about wading into a statistical area they may not fully understand.

Gwen Smith takes on a genre she knows well—she is the past editor of the women’s magazine Elm Street, and was an assistant managing editor at Maclean’s.

In her Chatelaine article, Pearson downplays the severity of allergies and laments that her son couldn’t bring a peanut sandwich to school. She argues few die from food allergy. “The only available figures come from Ontario, where allergists researching fatalities gathered information from coroners’ offices and found that 32 adults and children died from food allergies between 1986 and 2000. In the same time frame, more Ontarians were killed by lightning.”

Some reader posts after the article pointed out that food allergy deaths were preventable.

Gwen Smith agrees that, until recently, there was little statistical study of allergy sufferers. She counters with new research demonstrating a doubling of food allergy and identifies a new statistical study of  allergy sufferers.

Her CBC post builds on a previous letter to Allergic Living readers, where she cites an upcoming study on rates of allergy by AllerGen , known by the acronym SCAAALAR.

“While overall prevalence rates won’t be crunched and published until next March, some key SCAAALAR findings have been released: among Canadian kids, there are significantly higher rates of peanut (1.52 per cent) and tree nut allergies (1.13 per cent) than among U.S. kids. When I asked Dr. Ann Clarke of McGill University, a lead researcher on both the McGill and SCAAALAR studies, about the significance of the peanut allergy rate, she said: ‘It represents a major health concern.'”

Chatelaine editor Maryam Sanati did not return a call asking for input by deadline.