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Kids With Food Allergies Targets for Bullies

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WebMD Health News

Dec. 24, 2012 -- Colorado Springs high school junior Morgan Smith can’t remember a time when he didn’t have life-threatening food allergies.

The 16-year-old had his first reaction to peanut butter at 9 months of age when he broke out in hives after touching his sister’s PBJ sandwich.

He had his first run-in with a peanut butter bully in first grade.

The classmate chased him around the playground during recess with a pack of peanut butter crackers saying he was going to kill him with them.

Morgan says he wasn’t exactly terrified, but he didn’t find the incident funny either because he knew even casual contact with the crackers could make him sick.

Food Allergy Bullies

His food allergies made him a target of another bully soon after that and again in middle school.

Now a new study from Mount Sinai Medical Center confirms that Morgan’s experience is far from unique.

Nearly 1 in 3 children who took part in a survey at the Center’s Jaffee Food Allergy Institute reported having been bullied, but nearly half of parents said they were not aware of the bullying. They also found that about a third of the children reported bullying especially because of their food allergies.

The survey also found that bullying was a bigger contributor to stress and reduced quality of life than food allergies themselves.  

Food allergies are on the rise among children, up almost 20% in the U.S. in just over a decade, with 5% of children allergic to foods such as peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, and shellfish, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“We found that when parents knew about the bullying the children’s quality of life tended to be better, but about half the time parents didn’t know,” says researcher and pediatric psychiatrist Eyal Shemesh, MD. “And they often didn’t know about the most serious incidents.”

1 in 3 Kids With Allergies Bullied

The Mount Sinai researchers surveyed 251 children and their parents recruited from the Center’s food allergy center.

The parents and children were surveyed separately to discern whether the children had been bullied about food allergies or for other causes.

In all, 45% of the children and 36% of the parents reported that bullying had occurred, and 31% of children and 25% of parents reported that the bullying had included threats with food.

Close to 1 in 3 bullied children had been taunted with the food they were allergic to, 12% had been forced to touch it, and 10% had had it thrown at them. More than half of the incidents occurred at school.

The study was published online today in the journal Pediatrics.

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