Food Allergies Are a Reason for Bullying

The first study of its kind finds that children with food allergies are often victims of bullying, teasing or even harassment because of their condition.

This is the first time that scientists have studied the social impact of food allergies in children, over the age of five, and researchers from Mount Sinai have concluded that 35% of children with food allergies are victims of bullying, teasing or harassment coming from other children and even from teachers and other school staff.

86% of teased or harassed kids undergo these episodes repeatedly, and besides classmates, who are the most frequent 'attackers', over 20% of children reported harassment or teasing from teachers and school staff.

The team of researchers was led by Scott H. Sicherer, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and they analyzed survey responses from 353 parents or caregivers of children with food allergies and food-allergic individuals.

Dr. Sicherer said that “food allergy in children affects quality of life and causes issues like anxiety, depression, and stress for them and their parents, 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.”

Over 43 percent of children said that the allergen was waved in their face and 64 percent reported being verbally teased.

Fortunately, no allergic reaction was triggered by the bullying, but nearly 65% of children reported feeling depressed and embarrassed because of this kind of behavior.

Recent studies estimated that a child in four has food allergies, according to Dr. Sicherer.

“What is so concerning about these results” he says, “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,” he added.

Another recent study carried out by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found that 17% of children in grades 6 through 10 reported being bullied.

The authors of the study stress that information about the vulnerability of children with food allergies should be a part of school programs meant to reduce bullying.

Besides this kind of program, all schools should have a no bullying policy and zero tolerance for bullies, as traumatized children are affected by this throughout their lives.

This study was based on a survey conducted at meetings of the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network in Tarrytown, New York, Rosemont, Illinois, and Baltimore, Maryland in 2009.

The data are reported in the October issue of Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.