Children With Food Allergies Are Often The Target Of Bullies | Health Info
By Alan Mozes Health Day Journalist
THURSDAY, October 7, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Life is tough enough for teens and tweens with food allergies. But bullying often comes with the territory, making their situation worse.
In a new study of more than 100 children with food allergies, almost a third said they had experienced some form of bullying related to food allergies.
“We also found that only 12% of parents reported that their child had been bullied for food allergies, which tells us that they don’t always know when the bullying occurs,” said the lead author of the study, Linda Herbert.
Herbert is Director of the Psychosocial Clinical Program in the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC.
The study involved 121 children, aged 9 to 15, as well as their guardians. The children were allergic to at least one of eight common foods, including peanuts, tree nuts, cow’s milk, eggs, wheat, soy, seafood, and fish.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, food allergies occur when your immune system overreacts to a specific protein in a given food, even when the food is ingested in very small amounts. And although food allergies can develop later in life, they are often diagnosed initially in childhood.
Herbert and his team noted that this type of bullying is a recognized concern, but their investigation was designed to better understand the extent of the problem.
For example, Herbert explained, “One of the questions the young teens answered was asking a simple ‘yes’ or’ no ‘in response to the question,’ Have you ever been the victim of bullying, teasing or harassment about your food allergy? “”
Only 17% said they had been.
But digging deeper, the team asked the children “to choose if anything from a list of experiences had ever happened to them.” The list included being given an allergen, being threatened with an allergen, or being excluded from an activity due to their food allergy.
In response, almost a third (31%) said they had in fact been bullied in some way.
Of those who did, two-thirds said they had been verbally harassed, teased, threatened, intimidated or criticized because of their allergy.
And just over half of the victims of harassment said they had experienced physical taunts. Some had been thrown in a problematic food, or even slipped on purpose in their meal.
Herbert admitted being surprised “at how many young teens reported that someone had done something physical, like shaking an allergen in their face.” If young people are threatened at school, they may be less likely to tell others about their food allergies and they may feel less safe at school.
This may explain why so many guards said they had no idea allergy-related bullying was a problem.
So what should parents do?
“We recommend that parents check with their children about their experiences with their peers at school, especially situations involving food,” Herbert advised.
“Based on our findings,” she added, “we would also recommend that parents do more than just ask ‘are you being bullied about your food allergy? They may not get all the information they need. “
Instead, she said, check with open-ended questions. “You could say, tell me how was lunch today at school; tell me who you had lunch with; or how was the school holiday today? You can also ask how your child’s friends are supporting their management of food allergies, or if there are ways your child’s friends are making her feel safe at school.
In the event of bullying, caregivers should make sure their child understands that it is not acceptable and involve teachers and school administrators, Herbert advised.
The school “should be encouraged to respond quickly and systematically to bullying,” she said. There may be little ways to modify the classroom or dining room to minimize the differences due to a food allergy. Additionally, school programs that educate children about the seriousness of food allergies can be helpful.
Parent involvement is essential, argued Dr. David Stukus, pediatric allergist and board member of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
While noting that bullying is not always intentional, Stukus agreed that “the psychosocial impact of living with food allergies is increasingly recognized and hopefully addressed with all families.”
Stukus suggested that parents keep an eye out for “subtle clues.” These, he noted, could include dropping grades, less enthusiasm for previously enjoyed activities, or social withdrawal.
The report was published in the Oct. 5 issue of the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.
There is more on teens and food allergies at RATE.
SOURCES: Linda Herbert, PhD, director, clinical psychosocial program, division of allergy and immunology, Children’s National Hospital, Washington, DC; David Stukus, MD., Pediatric allergist and member of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Board of Regents; Journal of Pediatric Psychology, October 5, 2021
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