Bullying and Food Allergies. What You Can Do?

Bullying would be upsetting for any child but since kids with food allergies already deal with the daily challenge of their allergies, bullying can be especially stressful for these children. Not only does the bullying cause an emotional toll, potential exposure to their allergens poses a serious, sometimes life-threatening health risk.

Let’s look more into bullying related to having food allergies, tips for prevention and other available resources parents can use to start conversations and help raise awareness.

Know the Facts

Both the number of children with food allergies and bullying incidents of these kids are on the rise. According to a 2013 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies have increased in children approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011, estimated at nearly six million children, or 8% of kids in the U.S and roughly two in every classroom1. Let’s take it a bit further. Just under half, or approximately 40% of kids with food allergies have a life-threatening reaction to the food allergen1.

A study published in 2013 in Pediatrics2 found that 45% of children with a food allergy reported being bullied, with 31% reporting bullying in relation to their food allergy. Bullying frequently involved threats with food, which for at least 40% of children can also be a life-threatening risk! 2

Researchers noted that, while hard to compare, this seems to be higher than other reports of bullying rates for any reason of around 17% in the general population or the reported 19-32% from a recent UK-based study of bullying prevalence. The authors note their findings are comparable to published bullying rates of around 43% for children with special needs.2

Another finding from this research that may not surprise you is that not all children reported incidences of bullying. Researchers noted that 87% of children did notify someone when they had been bullied in relation to their food allergy, and 71% told their parents.2 Their findings suggested that if parents were not notified that friends seemed to be the recipient of the information regarding bullying.2

Impact of Bullying

Bullying can run the gamut from being barred by teachers from activities involving food, to name-calling by peers or even threats to the allergic child using the potential food allergen. Faced with this, the allergy-challenged child experiences increased stress and anxiety. This may lead to their not eating during school, avoiding school or even succumbing to peer pressure and forgoing the off-limits food, in spite of possible harmful side effects. Bullying can be both emotionally and physically damaging.

Since all these effects can result from just a single instance of bullying, prevention is essential.

The take home messages here are:

  1. Strongly encourage your children to report any bullying to you or their school professionals
  2. If you see bullying yourself, do something about it.

Signs a Child Is Being Bullied

So how do you know if your child is being bullied?  Some children might display warning signs. Familiarizing yourself with these signs can help you recognize if your child is being affected and they are not telling you.  Remember if you suspect your child is being bullied, don’t wait to ask them.

Tips for Preventing and Addressing Food Allergy Bullying:

Knowledge and communication are important in minimizing the bullying of kids with food allergies.

Parents, teachers, and the community can be instrumental in curbing food allergy bullying. Scripting responses, role playing scenarios and running interference with school personnel are ways parents can help.

Should your little one be faced with a bully at school, FARE has created helpful tips for preventing and addressing food allergy bullying:

  • Encourage open communication
  • Teach kids the skills they need to stand up to bullies
  • Recognize the signs of bullying
  • If your child is being bullied, be calm and assure him or her that you’re going to help
  • Encourage teachers, administrators, the school nurse, or counselors to offer educational programs about food allergies and bullying
  • Set up a buddy system

View more tips on bullying prevention from FARE.

Resources to Support You & Your Community:

There are a lot of great resources available for you and your support network to not only help prepare your little one with food allergies for success against any bullying they may face, but also resources to help raise awareness around food allergy bullying. 

One such resource is this PSA from FARE, “Food Allergy Bullying: It’s Not a Joke”:

Another interesting resource you might find helpful is an article from the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology about What the Allergist Can Do. It can be a helpful resource when individuals with food allergies are being bullied.3  In addition to the bullying screening tools mentioned3 and the urge for the allergist to be aware of the issue so they can identify when this may be happening in their patients and refer them to a mental health professional accordingly, the authors also encourage the allergist to become an advocate for prevention in their respective communities. 

If your family is dealing with bullying, or you want to be proactive, perhaps you can invite your child’s allergist or members of their healthcare team to speak at school and educate others about food allergies, the risks associated with allergies and/or asthma, and how to promote an environment of support vs. an environment of harassment. 

FARE also has a number of other resources in relation to bullying prevention for individuals with food allergies including:

Looking for more resources to help prevent bullying? Well we are happy to oblige so your little one is prepared for success against bullies.  Here are some other general bullying resources you might find useful:

Sharing information and resources on the serious nature of food allergies and increasing awareness of the dangers of food allergy bullying is a way to be a change agent for kids with allergies. Spark some attention to this- spread the word.

-Kristin Crosby MS, RDN, LDN

Reference:

  • Jackson, Kristen D., M.P.H.; Howie, LaJeana D., M.P.H., C.H.E.S.; Akinbami, Lara J. , M.D. “Trends in Allergic Conditions Among Children: United States, 1997–2011” CDC/National Center for Health Statistics. Number 121, May 2013
  • Shemesh E, et al. 2013; 131: e10-7
  • “Bullying and Food Allergy: What Can Allergist Do?” American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Website. Accessed November 8, 2017. Link to article
Published: 01/04/2018
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