Living with a food allergy is a daunting enough experience for a child but what is worse is to be picked on by school bullies for not being able to eat certain foods.
In what can be termed as a worrisome social trend, a new study found that youngsters are teased, taunted and tormented because they have food allergies.
Lead author of the study, Dr. Scott H. Sicherer professor of pediatrics at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine stated, "We know that food allergy in children affects quality of life and causes issues like anxiety, depression and stress for them and their parents.
"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."
About 82 percent of the bullying incidents occurred at school, with 80 percent of the cases carried out by other students. However, the disturbing element was that 20 percent of the respondents had been teased and harassed by a teacher or other school staff.
Social implications of food allergies assessed
In a bid to examine the social implications of food allergies, the researchers studied the survey responses from 353 parents and caregivers of children with food allergies, as well as the food-allergic children.
Fifty-five percent of the respondents were between the ages of four and 11 and 61 percent were boys.
Peanut allergy affected 81 percent of the group while 84 percent suffered from multiple food allergies.
The data revealed that 35 percent of children over the age of five had faced bullying, teasing or harassment as a result of their allergies.
Out of that group, 86-percent reported multiple episodes of bullying.
About 82 percent of the incidents occurred at school, with 80 percent of the cases carried out by other students.
However, the disturbing element was that 20-percent of the respondents had been teased and harassed by a teacher or other school staff.
Sicherer said, "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."
Other highlights of the survey
Verbal abuse is the most common form of bullying found, with nearly 64 percent reporting that form of teasing.
More than 43 percent of the children reported being touched with food they were allergic to such as a peanut.
There were also instances of having the allergen thrown or waved at them.
Gina Clowes, director of allergymoms.com and a coach for parents on food allergies, stated, "[Bullies will] make fun of what they're eating. I don't know if it's innocent or malicious, but some kids will literally threaten them with the peanut, or 'I'm going to throw peanuts at you.'"
Many were taunted for having to carry medication, being made to sit apart at mealtimes and getting special treatment.
The bullying caused no allergic reactions, but the psychological impact was immense as 65 percent of the victims reported feeling embarrassed humiliated and depressed.
Sicherer said, “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.
"If there was education about food allergies, there might be less mystery and more understanding.”
This study was based on a survey conducted at meetings of the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network in Tarrytown, New York, Rosemont, Illinois, and Baltimore, Maryland in 2009.
The data are reported in the October issue of 'Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.'