Kids With Food Allergies Are Often Targets for Bullies – Consumer Health NewsOctober 7, 2021
THURSDAY, Oct. 7, 2021 (HealthDay News) — Life is challenging enough for teens and pre-teens with food allergies. But bullying often comes with the territory, making their situation worse.
In a new study of more than 100 kids with food allergies, nearly one-third said they had been subject to some form of food allergy-related bullying.
“We also found that only 12% of parents reported that their child was bullied for food allergies, which tells us they don’t always know when bullying is happening,” said study lead author Linda Herbert.
Herbert is director of the psychosocial clinical program in the Children’s National Hospital division of allergy & immunology, in Washington, D.C.
The study involved 121 children, aged 9 to 15, along with their caregivers. The kids were allergic to at least one of eight common foods, including peanuts, tree nuts, cow’s milk, eggs, wheat, soy, shellfish and fish.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, food allergies occur when your immune system overreacts to a specific protein found in a certain food, even when the food is ingested in very small amounts. And while food allergies can develop later in life, they are often initially diagnosed during childhood.
Herbert and her team noted that this type of bullying is a recognized concern, but their investigation was designed to gain more insight into the scope of the problem.
For example, explained Herbert, “one of the questions that early adolescents answered asked for a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in response to the question: ‘Were you ever bullied, teased, or harassed about your food allergy?'”
Just 17% said they had been.
But digging deeper, the team asked the kids “to select if anything in a list of experiences had ever happened to them.” The list included having had an allergen waved at them, being threatened with an allergen, or being excluded from an activity due to their food allergy.
In response, nearly one-third (31%) said they had, in fact, been bullied in one way or another.
Among those who had, two-thirds said they had been verbally harassed, teased, threatened, intimidated or criticized because of their allergy.
And just over half of bullying victims said they had been subjected to physical taunting. Some had had a problematic food tossed at them, or even slipped into their meal on purpose.
Herbert acknowledged being surprised “to see how many early adolescents said someone had done something physical, like having an allergen waved in their face. If youth are being threatened in school, they may be less likely to tell others about their food allergies and they may feel less safe in school.”
This may explain why so many caretakers said they had no idea that allergy bullying was a problem.
So what are parents to do?
“We would recommend that parents check in with their children about their experiences with peers at school, especially about situations that involve food,” advised Herbert.
“Based on our findings,” she added, “we would also…