Children with food allergies are commonly bullied, teased or harassed at school, and not only by other children, but sometimes by teachers and school staff as well, a new study published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology reveals. Over 30% of children with some kind of food allergy say they have been targets. Verbal abuse appears to be the most common offence. However, in 40% of reported cases, children say they were physically threatened, including having the allergen thrown or dangled in front of them, or being smeared with their allergen, the authors wrote.
Allergist Scott Sicherer, MD, co-author of the study and a researcher at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai in New York, said:
Food allergies affect an estimated 12 million Americans, including 3 million children. These children face daily challenges in managing their food allergies. Sadly, this study shows they may also be bullied about their food allergy, a medical condition that is potentially fatal.
A survey of 353 parents/caregivers of children with a food allergy, as well as patients with food allergies - including both children and adults - found that almost 1 in every 4 people said they had been bullied, harassed or teased because of their food allergy. 86% of them said this occurred several times.
According to the survey:
- 82% of the bullying, harassment or teasing incidences occurred at school
- In 80% of cases, the episodes were started off by a classmate (classmates)
- In 21% of cases, the perpetrator was a teacher or a member of the school staff
Recent cases involving bullying and food allergy include a middle school student who found peanut butter cookie crumbs in her lunchbox and a high school student whose forehead was smeared with peanut butter in the cafeteria. Bullying, whether physical or verbal is abusive behavior that can have a tremendous impact on a child's emotional well-being.
Having to focus one's attention on every piece of food that enters an allergic child's mouth is an ordeal in itself. Sadly, there appear to be other preventable factors which make the stress even worse.
When a child is diagnosed with a food allergy, there is a significant emotional impact on the child, apart from the upheaval that a change in lifestyle might cause, the authors write.
Dr. Sicherer, said:
Victims of bullying who are food-allergic risk losing their sense of security at school, which could lead to heightened anxiety because of this emotional abuse. Additionally, the bullying of a child with a food allergy is potentially dangerous.
Educators should develop anti-harassment policies related to food allergy. The public needs to understand this behavior is unacceptable.
Adding bullying to all the challenges faced by a person with a food allergy is "downright dangerous", the researchers stress.
Types of food allergyAny food can, in theory, cause a food allergy. However, a handful of foods are to blame for about 90% of allergic reactions, according to the Foods Standards Agency (a UK government agency). They are known as the big eight, and include:
- Nuts from trees, including Brazil nuts, almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts
- Peanuts (groundnuts)
- Shellfish, including crab, shrimps and mussels
Click here to read about common food allergies in more detail.
Source: American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology
Written by Christian Nordqvist