A surprising new study released in this month's issue ofAnnals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunologyfound that children and adolescents with food allergies are frequently bullied and harassed by their schoolmates and peers. It has been estimated that more than 3 million children in the U.S. have food allergies. Apparently one-third or more of children over the age of 5, who are allergic to certain foods, have experienced harassment, and bullying at school because of their food allergies, according to researchers at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City found.
Almost 90 percent of the children affected indicated they were teased, repeatedly. It was surprising to see how more than 20 percent of the children reported they were harassed or taunted by school staff. Researchers gave questionnaires to over 350 parents of and caregivers of children with food allergies. A significant amount of those affected by the harassment and bullying, indicated it was a "physical event", and in some cases their food was allegedly tampered with as part of this assault.
It's troubling and shocking all at the same time. It's a problem that perhaps has been underestimated because we were not always aware of this phenomenon. We need to try to reduce the stigma of having a food allergy. These psychological effects as a result of this behavior directed toward to these children, especially since almost one in 25 children have a food allergy, were quite striking. It isn't uncommon for food-allergic teenagers to refuse to carry treatments with them like Epi-Pens, for fear of retaliation or ridicule by classmates. It's like a scarlet letter. I try to make it "cool" for the kids, and strategize with them about how to make them more comfortable in dealing and living with their food allergies.
I am frequently queried on some of the reasons why food allergies are on the rise in the United States. There are many ways to approach this question. First, it is true that between 1997 and 2007, food allergies in children have increased by 18 percent, according to a study published in the journal, Pediatrics. In a study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunologythat found during a 5-year period, visits to the emergency room for allergic reactions more than doubled. The study also revealed how the severity of allergic reactions was higher as well.
We need better coordinated communication with children and adolescents affected by food allergies, their parents, friends, schoolmates, school personnel, nurses and teachers, if we hope to provide an environment that is more conducive and understanding of an individual child with a food allergy.
Check out the video "Food allergies in the real world", to gain greater insight on this condition, and how it may particularly affect teenagers by clicking here, or go to www.foodallergy.org,for more information on other strategies in assisting you or your child, if he/she has a food allergy.
Dr. Clifford W. Bassett is an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the Long Island College Hospital and on the faculty of NYU School of Medicine. He is the current chair for public education committee of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. No information in this blog is intended as medical advice to any reader or intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition.