A new study released this week showed that more than 30% of kids with food allergies reported being bullied, teased or harassed because of their condition. This statistic is frightening, but if you have a child with food allergies it might not be that shocking. While not all kids with food allergies have been subjected to extreme cases, like the one described in this MSNBC article, many have been made fun of for eating different foods and not being able to participate in certain activities.
One way that parents and communities can start to combat this growing trend is to increase awareness and understanding of food allergies among other children, parents and even teachers. In addition to advocating for new policies and legislation to protect children with food allergies, you can also encourage your child’s school to host assemblies and awareness days. The Food Allergy and Anaphylactic Network (FAAN) has found that starting the conversation encourages friends and other students to help keep their classmates with food allergies safe.
The big story on allergy this past week has been about bullying by way of allergies. Geez, the teen/pre-teen years just get harder and harder, don’t they?
Apparently, an 8th grader from Kentucky slipped crumbs from a peanut butter cookie into the lunch box of a classmate with a severe peanut allergy. Fortunately, the allergic child didn’t eat from the contaminated lunch box and wasn’t harmed. But the 13-year-old bully was arrested on felony wanton endangerment charges.
For parents of children with severe food allergies, sending them off to school can be a scary thing. Not only is there a risk that they will accidentally be exposed to an allergen, but bullying is on the rise. The best way to guard against this is to educate your child’s school about food allergies, from the students to their principal and everyone in between.
To get you started, we’ve put together a list of some simple steps you can take to start the conversation about food allergies.
Many people (adults included!) simply don’t understand the seriousness of food allergies, interpreting you and your child's concerns about food as pickiness or just “being difficult”.
One way to teach other students about allergies and how to protect their classmates is the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network's Be a PAL (Protect a Life) program. You can download free brochures and posters about the program and share them with your child’s teacher. Another great way to educate your child’s school is to work with the faculty or PTA to organize an educational assembly about food allergies.
In recent years, there have been more and more news stories about bullying and the impact that it can have on children and teens. It is clear that bullying is a serious problem that must urgently be addressed in schools.
Sadly, reports have shown that children with food allergies are often the targets of bullies. As kids head back to school, we feel this is an important time to address this topic. In this post, we’ll discuss ways to prevent bullying, how to determine whether your child is being bullied and if so, how to help.
Last year, the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) published a shocking study about the incidence of bullying among children with food allergies. Researchers at Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai found that:
Over 30% of children with food allergies are reported to have been bullied, teased, or harassed because of their food allergies.
In 86% of these cases, the bullying and harassment was repetitive.
Over 40% of these cases involved having their allergen thrown at them or waved in their face.
As you might expect, most bulling came from classmates and peers but surprisingly, over 20% of the cases involved bullying from teachers or other school staff.
Here's a great PSA that Foodallergy.org put together around food allergy bullying
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 (over 65% reported feeling depressed or embarrassed), potential exposure to their allergens poses a serious, sometimes life-threatening, health risk.
So how can we stop the bullying?
The most effective way is to increase awareness of food allergies and develop anti-bullying policies in schools. FAAN developed a peer education program on food allergies called Be a PAL: Protect A Life™ From Food Allergies. This is a great way to create awareness and understanding of food allergies in the classroom.
StopBullying.gov is another great website with helpful resources for parents, kids, teens and schools. As a parent, it’s important to know the signs that your child is being bullied at school kids may not tell you that it is occurring. View signs a child is being bullied.
…to cause a cascade of unfortunate events for a child with a food allergy. Besides having to say “NO” to the tasty treat due to potential allergy-triggering ingredients, the student may encounter taunting and teasing from classmates for having an allergy- insult icing!
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 classroom. Unfortunately about one-third of these kids are bullied because of their allergies. This can run the gamut from being barred from activities involving food by teachers 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.
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. Kelly Huth writes about these and offers suggestions and supporting information for parents on this website.
Guidelines for schools and training materials are available through the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) website. The School Nutrition Association has training available to members on their School Nutrition University website. Online training for non-healthcare school personnel developed by FAAN and the Food Allergy Initiative can be found on their website.
The Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) has an online public campaign - “It’s Not a Joke” - that has sparked a lot of media attention to food allergy bullying. Their PSA, along with other materials, are available on the campaign website www.foodallergy.org/its-not-a-joke.
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. Be the icing on an allergy-free cupcake!
1. Allergy statistics. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology website. 2. Food allergies: what you need to know. US Food and Drug Administration website. 3. Lieberman JA, Weiss C, Furlong TJ, Sicherer M, Sicherer SH. Bullying among pediatric patients with food allergy. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2010;105(4):282-286.
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:
Strongly encourage your children to report any bullying to you or their school professionals
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
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:
Stopbullying.gov is a federal government website managed by the US Department of Health and Human Services with resources for bullying including prevention and cyberbullying
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
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
Food Allergy Living is a resource for parents of children with food allergies, brought to you by Nutricia, the makers of Neocate. For more in-depth information about our purpose & authors, see our About Food Allergy Living page.