Kids With Food Allergies the Target of School Bullies
As the prevalence of food allergies grows, doctors and parents are becoming more aware of a disturbing trend – children being picked on for not being able to eat certain foods. A new study published in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology has found that about 35% of school children with food allergies have been a target of bullying, teasing, or harassment.
Most Bullying Episodes Occur in Schools by Classmates
The data for the study came from the results tabulated from 353 surveys, mostly completed by parents and caregivers of children with food allergies who were attending various conferences by the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. The vast majority (82%) of the incidents occurred in schools. Peers were the most common perpetrators, but surprisingly, 20% of respondents reported harassment from teachers and other school staff.
Most children were the target of verbal abuse, but more than 43% of the children reported having the food they were allergic to waved in their faces. Although no incidences of triggering an allergic reaction by this action were reported, but the danger is self-evident, write the study authors. The bullying is almost never a onetime incident – 86% report repeated episodes.
About 65% of the victims also reported feelings of sadness, depression and embarrassment or humiliation.
"We know that food allergy in children affects quality of life and causes issues like anxiety, depression, and stress for them and their parents," said Scott Sicherer, lead study author and pediatric allergist at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. "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."
Unfortunately, because the survey was completed by parents, the number of victims may actually be higher than reported. As with other types of bullying, food-allergic children may not report the abuse to their parents.
For parents of children with food allergies, Gina Clowes, director of allergymoms.com, says to watch for these warning signs: sadness, being withdrawn or anxious, or a change in your child’s eating habits, such as coming home with an untouched lunchbox. Parents should not expect a child to handle the issue themselves, but inform teachers and administrators right away if an incident occurs.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 3.9% of children younger than 18 have food allergies in the United States - an increase of about 18% over the past 10 years.