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Children With Food Allergies Face Bullying

Survey Shows Verbal Abuse Is Most Common Form of Bullying Experienced by Allergy Sufferers
By Katrina Woznicki
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Sept. 28, 2010 -- About one in four children is bullied, teased, or harassed because of a food allergy, a survey shows.

The survey was completed by 353 teens, adults up to age 25, and parents and caregivers of children with food allergies. Researchers at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at The Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York and the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, which supported the study, also found that:

  • Among those who reported bullying, 86% reported multiple episodes. Verbal abuse was the most common form of bullying.
  • 82% of these episodes occurred at school and 80% took place among classmates.
  • 79% said the bullying and harassing were solely related to a food allergy whereas others reported being harassed for having to carry medication for their food allergy.
  • 57% of those bullied reported being touched or harassed by the actual food allergen.
  • 21% reported teachers or school staff as the perpetrators.
  • None of the children in the study suffered an allergic reaction as a result of bullying or harassing.

Peanut allergy affected 81% of the group; 84% of the group had multiple food allergies. Fifty-five percent were between the ages of 4 and 11; 61% were boys.

The findings are published in the October issue of Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, the scientific journal of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Polices to Prevent Harassment

“Food allergies affect an estimated 12 million Americans, including 3 million children. These children face daily challenges in managing their food allergies,” says allergist Scott Sicherer, MD, co-author of the study and a researcher at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at The Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, in a news release. “Sadly, this study shows they may also be bullied about their food allergy, a medical condition that is potentially fatal.”

“Recent cases involving bullying and food allergy include a middle school student who found peanut butter cookie crumbs in her lunchbox and a high school student whose forehead was smeared with peanut butter in the cafeteria,” says Christopher Weiss, PhD, study co-researcher and vice president, advocacy and government relations of the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, in a news release. “Bullying, whether physical or verbal, is abusive behavior that can have a tremendous impact on a child’s emotional well-being. Educators should develop anti-harassment policies related to food allergy. The public needs to understand this behavior is unacceptable.”

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