Before 1980, peanut allergies were rarely mentioned in medical literature or the media, said Miranda Waggoner, a postdoctoral researcher at the Office of Population Research in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Her article on the subject, "Parsing the peanut panic: The social life of a contested food allergy epidemic," was published recently in the journal Social Science & Medicine.
Starting around 1990, articles in medical journals began discussing the seriousness of peanut allergies, Waggoner said. At the same time, advocacy groups were emerging to raise awareness of the issue. By the mid-1990s, newspapers were printing articles with headlines such as "Nut Allergy Girl's Terror; Girl Almost Dies from Peanut Allergy."
And the 21st century brought descriptions of peanut allergies — in medical journals and the media — as an epidemic.
For those with a peanut allergy, ingesting the legume can lead to anaphylactic shock and, if untreated, death. But the allergy is quite rare and it isn't clear whether it is becoming more common, Waggoner said.'