See the live dashboard for CensusAtSchool

Dairy the most common schoolchild food allergy: CensusAtSchool

Dairy is the most common food allergy among New Zealand school children, according to early results of the nationwide CensusAtSchool project.

CensusAtSchool, which started on Monday and runs until June 15, is an online educational project that brings statistics to life in the classroom. Supervised by teachers, students answer 32 questions about their lives, many of them involving practical activities such as weighing and measuring, then analyse the results in class. This year, more than 1120 teachers from 539 schools all over New Zealand are running CAS in their classrooms.

Early results, from the first 2800 respondents, show that 8.5% of students aged 10 to 18 (Year 5 to Year 13) taking part to date report having one or more food allergies. Dairy is top of the list (3.5% of all respondents), followed by peanuts (2.5%) and eggs (2.0%), then wheat, tree nuts, shellfish, fish and soy (each under 1.9%). The consequences of a food allergy can range from uncomfortable to life-threatening.

CensusAtSchool co-director Rachel Cunliffe says a question about food allergies was added to this year’s questionnaire for the first time to reflect the lack of data on the issue. “There appears to be plenty of anecdotal evidence that this generation of children is more allergy-prone than earlier generations,” she says, “and we were keen to see what food allergies students reported and their prevalence.”

She adds, “While these are self-reported allergy figures, which may have a range of meanings and differ in their severity, the figures provide an interesting snapshot of what food allergies students have to manage.”

CensusAtSchool, now in its sixth edition, is a biennial collaborative project involving teachers, the University of Auckland’s Department of Statistics, Statistics New Zealand and the Ministry of Education. It is part of an international effort to boost statistical capability among young people, and is carried out in Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, the US, Japan and South Africa. The countries share some questions so comparisons can be made, but the majority reflect New Zealand students’ interests