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Children with Food Allergies Targeted by Bullies

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – More than 30 percent of children are reported to have been bullied, teased, or harassed because of their food allergy according to a study published this month in Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, the scientific journal of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). Although verbal abuse is the most common, over 40 percent were reported to have been threatened physically with acts such as being touched with their allergen or having the allergen thrown or waved at them.

“Food allergies affect an estimated 12 million Americans, including 3 million children. These children face daily challenges in managing their food allergies,” said allergist Scott Sicherer, MD, co-author of the study and a researcher at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai in New York. “Sadly, this study shows they may also be bullied about their food allergy, a medical condition that is potentially fatal.”

In the survey of 353 parents and caregivers of food-allergic children and food-allergic patients, nearly one-quarter of individuals in all age groups were reported to have been bullied, teased or harassed because of their food allergy. Of those affected, 86 percent reported multiple episodes.

Additionally:

  • 82 percent of the episodes occurred at school
  • 80 percent of the episodes were perpetrated by classmates
  • 21 percent reported teachers or other school staff were the perpetrators.

“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,” said Christopher Weiss, PhD, study co-author and vice president, advocacy and government relations of FAAN (the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network). “Bullying, whether physical or verbal is abusive behavior that can have a tremendous impact on a child’s emotional well-being.”

The meticulous attention that must be paid to every morsel a child with a food allergy eats is challenging enough. Unfortunately, this is not the only stressful aspect of food allergies. The diagnosis of food allergy is life-altering in several ways, not the least of which is the emotional impact on children.

“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,” said Dr. Sicherer. “Additionally, the bullying of a child with a food allergy is potentially dangerous.”

“Educators should develop anti-harassment policies related to food allergy, said Weiss. “The public needs to understand this behavior is unacceptable.”

Managing a food allergy is challenging enough on its own, but add bullying into the mix and it is downright dangerous. One way FAAN helps children manage their food allergies is through its peer education program, Be a PAL: Protect A Life™ From Food Allergies. This program is designed to help parents and educators teach students about food allergies, and how to help their friends who are managing them. The first rule of the Be a PAL program says, “Food allergies are serious. Don’t make jokes about them.” This program teaches children at a young age about the steps they can take to keep their classmates safe.

Consumers can take a simple online test to gauge their allergy symptoms and obtain a personalized plan on how to get relief at the Allergy/Asthma Relief Test.

September 28, 2010