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Kids with food allergies often are bullied by classmates with 'food threats'

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 26 2012 10:50 a.m. MST

Of those surveyed, 45.4 percent of the children and 36.3 percent of their parents indicated that the child had been bullied or harassed for any reason, and 31.5 percent of the children and 24.7 percent of the parents reported bullying specifically due to the food allergies. The bullying often involved "threats with food," usually by a classmate.

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Nearly a third of children who have food allergies are bullied, according to a just-released study, but half their parents don't know about it. What they do know is that both parent and child have more stress and it negatively impacts their lives.

The study was published in the journal Pediatrics. As a result of the finding, the researchers recommend that both parents and pediatricians routinely ask those with food allergies about bullying, to reduce additional stress and improve life quality.

The researchers, from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, noted that about 8 percent of kids in the United States are allergic to such foods as peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs and shellfish. Although many foods can cause allergic reactions, those are among the most serious.

In a release about the study, the researchers said that "nearly half of parents surveyed (47.9 percent) were not aware of the bullying — although both the bullied children and their parents reported experiencing higher stress levels and lower quality of life."

The bullying study included 251 parent-child pairs who were recruited during visits to allergy clinics. Each was asked to answer a questionnaire, independent of the other. The validated questionnaires were used to look at bullying due to food allergy or for other reasons, as well as quality of life and distress for both child and participating parent.

Of those surveyed, 45.4 percent of the children and 36.3 percent of their parents indicated that the child had been bullied or harassed for any reason, and 31.5 percent of the children and 24.7 percent of the parents reported bullying specifically due to the food allergies. The bullying often involved "threats with food," usually by a classmate.

According to Time magazine, the most troubling cases involved taunting by other kids who stuffed allergens into their mouths or threw food at them.

“These were acts that could actually be life-threatening,” Dr. Eyal Shemesh, lead author and an associate professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at Mount Sinai Medical Center, told Time. “Even if it’s limited to teasing, that is still upsetting. If you are allergic and someone threatens to stuff a peanut in your mouth, they only need to do it once for you to be afraid.”

"When parents are aware of the bullying, the child's quality of life is better," said senior author Dr. Scott H. Sicherer, professor of pediatrics and chief of the Division of Pediatric Allergy and co-director of a program within the school's Jaffe Food Allergy Institute aimed at helping youths and their families manage their allergies and quality of life. "Our results should raise awareness for parents, school personnel and physicians to proactively identify and address bullying in this population."

It's especially concerning because food allergies appear to be increasing, according to Anchorage Daily News coverage of a study that suggests chemicals, particularly pesticides, getting into the water supply may be to blame. It cited a finding by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that such allergies increased 18 percent in the decade between 1997 and 2007.

The new research builds on an earlier study Sicherer led that found not only teasing and bullying in high numbers for children with food allergies, but that in 86 percent of cases, the harassment was not a single episode. That study, published in 2010 in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, said that classmates were the most common perpetrators, but more than one-fifth of the harassment came from teachers and other school staff.

Food allergies have been shown to cause issues like anxiety, depression and stress for the children who have them, as well as for their parents. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, food allergies are most common for babies and children, but they can appear at any age, and foods that someone has eaten for years without problems can cause allergies, too.

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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