Can Food Allergies Increase Incidences Of Bullying?
BY LILY McCANN
When someone suffers from a food allergy the most immediate concerns are the physical symptoms and keeping those under control, to make sure good physical health is maintained by avoiding allergens and triggers which can end up causing severe health problems.
Often however, what can end up becoming neglected are the emotional side of these conditions. The results of a study published recently show that this is something that perhaps needs to be addressed more, especially with children and young adolescents.
Food allergies and bullying
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently conducted a study into what they termed the “Social vulnerability that is associated with food allergy” and in association with this, the signs and symptoms that might mean children and young adults are more predisposed to bullying than youngsters who do not suffer from these problems.
A core group of around two hundred and fifty families were recruited, many of whom had been attending for regular sessions at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute which is based at Mount Sinai in New York.
These recruits completed surveys on the subject and of this number who were questioned, over forty five percent of the children and thirty six per cent of the adults stated that they were aware of bullying. Of those figures, over thirty one percent of the children and twenty seven percent of the adults specifically associated the aforementioned bullying with the presence of one or more types of food allergy in the child’s life. Worryingly, some stated that the bullying took the form of threats to the child with the food they were allergic or likely to react to and that this sort of bullying was usually carried out by the classmates of the child.
Impact on quality of life
The bullying, as you would expect, resulted in a marked decrease in the quality of life, not only for the sufferer but for the family too. It was noted that quality of life was better for those children who were open and honest with their parents about the bullying as opposed to those who kept their problems hidden. There seemed to be an almost fifty-fifty split between children who were honest with their parents about being bullied and those who were not.
In conclusion, the study found that there was a greater problem with children and young people suffering bullying as a result of the allergies they suffered and that more does need to be done to proactively engage and encourage any youngsters who are suffering from such problems brought on by a food allergy to be open and honest with a family member, carer or a trusted adult.
The results of the study also suggested that it may be prescient to implement a system of screening which children can go through when they are diagnosed with an allergy and receiving treatment to make sure that they are not being bullied in any way at all.
The author of the study, Dr Eyal Shernesh is quoted as saying that “It is very easy to intimidate a food-allergic child” adding that “It doesn’t take more than waving a peanut in front of them”.
Shernesh also encouraged parents to try and be non-alarmist about incidences of bullying related to food allergies and said that they should gently question their children about any issues they may have rather than interrogating them, which can often cause further distress or upset and even ending up making the child more withdrawn and unwilling to open up.
He also added that more Clinicians should be made aware of this sort of emotional distress and upset, though the study showed that possibly, many of them already were.
Two previous studies
Dr Shernesh’s work is by no means an isolated study on this interesting topic. In 2010, the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology found that that thirty percent of the children they surveyed had experienced bullying or intimidation because of their problems with food allergies.
Some reported that they, as in Shernesh’s study, had been threatened or taunted with foods they were allergic to. Certain children reported that they had been smeared with allergens. More worryingly though, this particular work picked up on the fact that it wasn’t just children bullying other children, but sometimes even teachers or other school staff that indulged in taunting and verbal abuse of children with allergies. As many as twenty one percent of the three hundred and fifty three strong case study reported that the bullying was from an adult in school, namely someone who should have been protecting them.
A second study which was released in 2011 and initially presented at the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Meeting by the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology associated incidences of food allergy with a rise in feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness amongst youngsters who suffered.
Children who had allergies were more likely to isolate themselves from others, be less social, not attend parties for fear of coming into contact with dangerous foods and also be less likely to want to experiment with their own diet, often ending up eating a monotonous food plan which makes their mood worse. A great many also felt they had to avoid exercise in case it triggered an anaphylactic shock, which also led to further episodes of anxiety and low mood.
Incidences of allergies on the rise
Figures that were released recently show that as many as six million children in the USA were suffering from food allergies of some kind. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) estimated that over the last decade there has been around an eighteen percent increase in the number of youngsters who required food allergy help to overcome their problems. However, scientists have not yet found any conclusive cause as to why these reactions seem to be occurring more frequently, as there could be many factors and much more work needs to be done in order to pinpoint more specific triggers.
Above all, the message seems to be to be alert and aware. If you are suffering from bullying as a result of an allergy, or you feel you may know someone who is, seek help, talk to someone and don’t be afraid.
Lily McCann is a writer for a licensed online pharmacy in the USA and wanted to write an article as part of their role as a "responsible, ethical healthcare business." Thank you Lily, for this informative article!