Approximately 35 percent of children with food allergies over the age of 5 have been victims of bullying, teasing or another form of peer or adult harassment as a result of their allergies.
These findings come from a study that is the first of its kind to determine the social impact of food allergies on children.
Conducted by researchers at Mount Sinai Medical Center, the findings also reveal that 86 percent of the children had experienced repeated episodes.
School bullying has become a focal point of school prevention programs in recent years. A previous study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development showed that 17 percent of children in grades 6 through 10 reported being bullied.
In the Mount Sinai study, classmates were identified as the most common perpetrators, but notably, more than 20 percent reported harassment or teasing from teachers and other school staff, researchers pointed out.
The study was led by Scott H. Sicherer, MD, professor of pediatrics at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He and his team of researchers identified and surveyed 353 parents or caregivers of children with food allergies and food-allergic individuals.
The survey was conducted at meetings of the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network in three locations throughout the U.S. — Tarrytown, N.Y., Rosemont, Ill., and Baltimore, Md. — in 2009.
“We know that food allergy in children affects quality of life and causes issues like anxiety, depression, and stress for them and their parents,” said Dr. Sicherer.
“However, our study is the first to explore teasing, harassment and bullying behaviors aimed at these children. The results are disturbing, as they show that children not only have to struggle with managing their food allergies, but also commonly bear harassment from their peers.”
More than 43 percent were reported to have been exposed to the allergen as peers waved the food in their face. Another 64 percent were reported as having experienced verbal teasing. While no allergic reactions resulted from the episodes, approximately 65 percent did report feelings of depression and embarrassment.
“It was recently estimated that nearly one in 25 children has a food allergy,” said Dr. Sicherer. “What is so concerning about these results is the high rate of teasing, harassment and bullying, its impact on these vulnerable children, and the fact that perpetrators include not only other children, but adults as well.”
“Considering the seriousness of food allergy, these unwanted behaviors risk not only adverse emotional outcomes, but physical risks as well. It is clear that efforts to rectify this issue must address a better understanding of food allergies as well as strict no-bullying programs in schools.”
Researchers noted that this study was not designed to determine prevalence of bullying in children with food allergies, but the number of patients bullied in the corresponding age group according to the survey is double that of a prior study.
The authors suggest that school programs designed to reduce bullying should include information about the vulnerable population of children with food allergies.
The findings are reported in the October issue of Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
Source: Mount Sinai Medical Center