Study Finds Children with Food Allergies Are Often Victims of Bullying
In a new study to assess the social impact of food allergies in children, Mount Sinai researchers have found that approximately 35 percent of children with food allergies over the age of five reported experiencing bullying, teasing, or harassment because of their allergies. Of those experiencing teasing or harassment, 86 percent were reported to have experienced repeated episodes. Classmates were the most common perpetrators, but surprisingly, more than 20 percent reported harassment or teasing from teachers and other school staff. The data are reported in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Led by Scott H. Sicherer, MD, professor of Pediatrics at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, researchers analyzed survey responses from 353 parents or caregivers of children with food allergies and food-allergic individuals.
More than 43 percent were reported to have had the allergen waved in their face.
“We know that food allergy in children affects quality of life and causes issues like anxiety, depression, and stress for them and their parents,” says Dr. Sicherer. “However, our study is the first to explore teasing, harassment, and bullying behaviors aimed at these children. The results are disturbing, as they show that children not only have to struggle with managing their food allergies, but also commonly bear harassment from their peers.”
More than 43 percent were reported to have had the allergen waved in their face, and 64 percent were reported as having experienced verbal teasing. No allergic reactions resulted from the bullying, but approximately 65 percent reported resulting feelings of depression and embarrassment.
“It was recently estimated that nearly one in 25 children has a food allergy,” says Dr. Sicherer. “What is so concerning about these results is the high rate of teasing, harassment, and bullying; its impact on these vulnerable children; and the fact that perpetrators include not only other children, but adults as well. Considering the seriousness of food allergy, these unwanted behaviors risk not only adverse emotional outcomes, but physical risks as well. It is clear that efforts to rectify this issue must address a better understanding of food allergies as well as strict no-bullying programs in schools.”
The authors suggest that school programs designed to reduce bullying should include information about the vulnerable population of children with food allergies.
Source: Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, www.annallergy.org.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Winter 2010-2011.