A recent study determined that up to a third of children with food allergies may be bullied because of their allergy. In some cases, this bullying goes beyond teasing and could include intentionally provoking a dangerous allergic reaction, suggests the study.
Children who were bullied reported a lower quality of life than other children with food allergies who were not bullied.
The study involved 251 families at an allergy clinic in New York. About a third of the children reported being bullied specifically because of their food allergy. Most of the bullying took the form of teasing and happened at school.
But in some cases, the children said classmates threatened them with the food to which they were allergic – throwing it at them, waving it in front of them, or saying they were going to sneak it into the child’s food.
Dangers of Bullying
“With food allergies, that kind of bullying does carry a theoretical physical risk,” commented Dr. Jay Lieberman, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Contact with an allergen could prompt a life-threatening allergic reaction if the child has a severe allergy.
Dr. Mark Schuster, chief of general pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital, commented:
“When it comes to food allergy, people often roll their eyes. They think that kids are just trying to avoid a food they don’t like. And they may not understand that food allergies can be serious.”
The study’s lead researcher Dr. Eyal Shemesh says that children could become stigmatized if classmates are required to avoid bringing peanuts and peanut butter to school. Shemesh noted that the parents of classmates may unwittingly encourage bullying by complaining about such food restrictions.
Shemesh says it’s important for parents, schools, and doctors to be aware that food allergies can make children a target for bullies. It is also important to be aware of potential clues that the child is being bullied, such as sadness or not wanting to go to school.