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Study: Kids With Food Allergies More Likely to Be Bullied

A new study published in the journal Pediatrics give us more insight into the lives of children with food allergies. The study, somewhat limited in scope by being based out of one allergy clinic, offers some disturbing statistics on bullying suffered by children with food allergies.

The study found that while about of quarter of parents believed their children had been harassed or bullied due to their food allergies, the number of children who reported being bullied was actually higher, at about 31 percent.

While most of the bullied children said they had told someone about the bullying, only about half the parents knew about it. However, when parents were aware of the bullying, it was associated with much higher quality of life for the children, including less stress and anxiety.

“Parents and pediatricians should routinely ask children with food allergy about bullying,” said Dr. Eyal Shemesh, the study’s lead author. “Finding out about the child’s experience might allow targeted interventions, and would be expected to reduce additional stress and improve quality of life for these children trying to manage their food allergies.” Dr. Shemesh is the director of a program at Mount Sinai Medical Center that aims to improve quality of life for children with food allergies.

“When parents are aware of the bullying, the child’s quality of life is better,” said Dr. Scott H. Sicherer, a senior author of the study and Chief of the Division of Pediatric Allergy at Mt. Sinai. “Our results should raise awareness for parents, school personnel, and physicians to proactively identify and address bullying in this population.”

By far, most of the bullying was perpetrated by classmates and occurred at school. The bullying took several forms, including:

  • Teasing (42%)
  • Waving the allergen in front of the child (30%)
  • Being forced to touch the food they are allergic to (12%)
  • Having food they are allergic to thrown at them (10%)

Bullying was significantly associated with poorer quality of life scores and greater anxiety, which the researchers noted was independent of allergy severity.

While it does seem like a great idea for parents, physicians, and schools to be on top of this potential problem, I don’t think parents of food-allergic children should completely freak out and assume that bullies are throwing peanuts at their children. Not to downplay the importance of this study–no child should have allergens thrown at them–but it hasn’t been our family’s experience at all.

All four of my children had multiple, very severe food allergies when they were younger. (They have, happily, outgrown them.) But none of them suffered any kind of bullying for it. There was one kid who couldn’t wrap his brain around why my daughter, who was allergic to red dye, could still wear a red shirt, but he wasn’t a bully. It’s just that the nuances of allergies can be hard for adults to comprehend, let alone second graders.

In fact, we always had far more problems getting adults to understand the deal with the food allergies than with their peers. Kids, who are used to being told, “no, you can’t have that” always seemed to have sympathy for my kids. Lots of my kids’ friends chose to eat snacks like rice cakes that were safe for my kids to eat, so no one would feel left out.

Even once my kids had outgrown their allergies, I saw that the kids in their classes have always seemed to look out for the kids with food allergies, frequently being the ones to remind parents and teachers of their friends’ allergies.

Maybe our family has just lucked out? I’d love for readers to share whether their food-allergic kids have been bullied, and how parents/schools handled it!

(via: ABC News)
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto)

Read more from Joslyn on Babble and at her blog, stark. raving. mad. mommy. You can also follow Joslyn on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

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