Study Finds Food-Allergic Children Subject to Bullying

Children with food allergies are frequently bullied by classmates but experience less psychological distress when their parents are aware of it, according to researchers at The Mount Sinai Medical Center, who surveyed 251 families during their visits to Mount Sinai’s Jaffe Food Allergy Institute in 2011.

The study—published online in the December 24, 2012, issue of Pediatrics—found that as many as 45.4 percent of the children, ages 8-17, reported being bullied, and 31.5 percent reported that food allergy was the reason.

“Parents and clinicians need to ask children with food allergies if they have been bullied,” says the study’s lead author Eyal Shemesh, MD, Chief of the Division of Behavioral and Developmental Health in the Department of Pediatrics at The Mount Sinai Medical Center. “Bullying is prevalent. Kids often don’t tell their parents, and it is important to know this is an issue.”

Up to 8 percent of children in the United States have food allergies. Such allergies make children socially vulnerable. The researchers found the majority of bullying incidences happened at school, and that most often the children were verbally teased. About one-third of the time, the food they are allergic to was waved at them.

Scott H. Sicherer, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, Jaffe Food Allergy Institute, and a senior author on the study, says the issue of bullying first came to his attention several years ago, when a young patient tearfully relayed a story about a classmate who threatened to put a peanut in his lunch, knowing he was allergic to it. That led Dr. Sicherer to author an earlier study that queried parents on whether their food-allergic children had been bullied. He found that 50 percent of those with children in grades 6-10 said yes.

“Importantly, our recent study showed that a child’s quality of life is better when parents know about the bullying,” says Dr. Sicherer. “My advice would be for parents to talk about it with their children, and for physicians to discuss it with their patients and their patients’ families.”

He adds that school administrators and teachers should be sensitive to the issue as well. “It takes a community to establish that bullying is not to be allowed,” Dr. Sicherer says.

This article was first published in Inside Mount Sinai.

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