FeaturesDec/Jan 2013 Issue

Food-Allergy Bullying

Risks of Bullying

About 35 percent of children over age 5 with food allergies have been bullied, teased or harassed, according to a 2010 study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, the first study to assess food allergy bullying.

Compare that percentage to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s 2001 study that found that 17 percent of kids in grades 6 through 10 were bullied. In the 2010 study, the rate of food-allergy bullying was an astonishing 50 percent for that same age group, says study co-author Scott H. Sicherer, MD, professor of pediatrics and a researcher at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai in New York. Sicherer is author of Understanding and Managing Your Child’s Food Allergies (Johns Hopkins Press).

Most of the bullying in the 2010 study was verbal but kids also reported physical acts, such as having the allergen thrown or waved at them or having their food intentionally contaminated with the allergen. The bullying took place mainly at school and by classmates. But 21 percent of the time, teachers or school staff were perpetrators. For example, Sicherer says, a child might be singled out when the teacher says, “We’re going to have a birthday party today but we’re not going to have any cake because Johnny has food allergies.”

Sicherer was inspired to conduct the study after seeing many of his patients express sadness about being teased and harassed because of their food allergies. Children who are different from their peers are often targeted. A food allergy can be a stigmatizing factor that marks a child as different and exposes him or her to bullying.

“Not being able to do exactly the same things as the other children when it comes to mealtime makes the child with food allergies different. They are also at a disadvantage because they can’t do something the other children can do, so there’s an imbalance of power,” Sicherer says. “These are all set-ups for bullying.”

Next: Know Your Rights

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