Food Allergies And Bullying Sometimes Go Hand In Hand
December 24, 2012

A Third Of Children With Food Allergies Experience Bullying

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

According to a recent Mount Sinai study published in the journal Pediatrics, nearly a third of children diagnosed with food allergies are bullied.

While a third of the children were being bullied, nearly half of the parents surveyed were unaware of the bullying, despite both the children and parents reporting they experience higher stress levels and lower quality of life.

The study, led by Eyal Shemesh, MD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, surveyed 251 pairs of parents and children. The pairs were consecutively recruited during allergy clinic visits to independently answer questionnaires.

Bullying due to food allergy for any cause, quality of life, and distress in both the child and parents were evaluated using validated questionnaires.

"Parents and pediatricians should routinely ask children with food allergy about bullying," Dr. Shemesh said. "Finding out about the child's experience might allow targeted interventions, and would be expected to reduce additional stress and improve quality of life for these children trying to manage their food allergies."

Senior author, Scott H. Sicherer, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, Chief, Division of Pediatric Allergy, Co-Director, EMPOWER program, said when parents are aware of the bullying, the child's quality of life is better.

"Our results should raise awareness for parents, school personnel, and physicians to proactively identify and address bullying in this population," Sicherer said.

Shemesh said clinicians should not be intimidated or think children will not talk to them about bullying, because the study proves they will.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there was an 18 percent increase in food allergies in the U.S. in the last decade. Nearly six million children have food allergies in the U.S.

"Living with a food allergy is emotionally stressful, since the only way to prevent a potentially life-threatening reaction is to be vigilant about avoiding problem foods," John Lehr, CEO of the Food Allergy Research and Education organization, told the Huffington Post. "When children with food allergies are bullied by being exposed or taunted with a food they are allergic to, it heightens anxiety and creates a sense of isolation."

The study was supported by the EMPOWER program, which is a program funded by the Jaffe Family Foundation. The program is devoted to understanding and enhancing the quality of life of persons with food allergies.