One in three children with food allergies report being bullied because of their condition
Living with a food allergy can have a huge impact on a child’s daily life, whether it’s limiting their participation in social activities or being treated differently by their peers. While previous research indicates that many children are bullied over food allergies, a new study in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology found that offering children with food allergies a multi-item assessment provides a more accurate picture of the magnitude and extent of the problem.
When asked a simple “yes” or “no” question about food allergy bullying, 17% of children said they had been bullied, teased or harassed about their food allergy. But when asked to respond to a multi-item list of victimizing behaviors, that number rose to 31%. What’s more, researchers at Children’s National Hospital found that only 12% of parents said they were aware of it. Reported bullying ranged from teasing or verbal criticism to more overt acts such as an allergen being waved in their face or intentionally put in their food. Researchers say it is essential to identify accurate assessment methods for this problem so that children can get the help they need.
“Bullying related to food allergies can have a negative impact on a child’s quality of life. Using a more comprehensive assessment, we found that children with food allergies were bullied more than originally reported and parents may be in the dark about it, ”explains Linda Herbert, Ph.D., Director of the Clinical and Psychosocial Research Program in the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Children’s National and one of the researchers in the study.
“The results of this study demonstrate the need for more food allergy education and awareness of food allergy harassment in communities and schools where food allergy harassment is most likely to occur.” produce, ”adds Herbert.
The study examined food allergy-related harassment among a diverse patient population and assessed parent-child disagreement and methods of assessing harassment. It included 121 children and 121 primary caregivers who completed questionnaires. The children were aged 9 to 15 and were diagnosed by an allergist with at least one of the eight major IgE-mediated food allergies – peanuts, tree nuts, cow’s milk, egg, wheat, soy, shellfish, and fish.
Of the 41 youth who reported being bullied over food allergies:
- 51% said they had experienced overt physical acts such as an allergen being addressed to their face, thrown at them or intentionally put in their food.
- 66% reported experiences of bullying that are categorized as overt acts of non-physical victimization, including verbal teasing, remarks or criticism about their allergy, and verbal threats or bullying.
- Eight reported relationship bullying, such as spreading rumors of people talking behind their backs and being intentionally ignored or excluded due to their food allergy.
The researchers also note that food allergy bullies included, but were not limited to, classmates and other students, and the bullying most often occurred in school.
The authors found that only 12% of parents said their child had been bullied because of their food allergy and of these, 93% said their child had reported bullying to them. Some parents said they made fun of themselves or laughed at themselves because of concerns about their child’s food allergy.
“It’s important to find ways for children to open up about bullying related to food allergies,” Herbert said. “Asking additional specific questions about peer experiences during clinic appointments will hopefully help children and caregivers get the help and support they need. “
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