Children with food allergies who are exposed to potentially life-threatening situations because of their medical condition also face another threat — the school yard bully.
A 2010 study — the most recent data available on food allergies and bullying — published by the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, reported that more than 30 percent of children have been bullied, teased or harassed because of their food allergy. Eighty-two percent of food bullying occurred at school and 80 percent of the incidents were perpetrated by classmates.
A food allergy is "an overreaction of the immune system in response to a food protein," says Veronica Brown, spokeswoman for the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, and can be fatal. In the United States, 5.9 million children (1 in 13 kids) are said to have a food allergy. Reactions range from rashes and hives to trouble breathing or loss of consciousness.
“In children with food allergies, bullying could be in the form of teasing someone because of their food allergy, or even threatening the victim with an allergen,” such as “intentionally spilling milk on a child who is allergic to it,” Brown says. “Kids with food allergies already are dealing with stress caused by fear or anxiety about accidental exposure to a food allergen. When these children are targeted because of their food allergy, these fears can be exacerbated” and they “can experience depression and low self-esteem.”
Parents can look out for warning signs such as changes in child’s behavior or a desire to avoid school. Schools also can implement anti-bullying programs, Brown says.
For more information about food allergies, visit www.foodallergy.org