Do Kids With Food Allergies Get Bullied?

BY  |  Wednesday, Sep 29, 2010 11:00am  |  COMMENTS (8)

foodallergysticker.jpgIn a recent study, one that is a first to look at the social impact of food allergies, Mt. Sinai Medical Center in NYC found that 35 percent of children over the age of five have experienced teasing, harrassment, or bullying because of their allergy.
It gets worse. “Of those experiencing teasing or harassment, 86 percent were reported to have experienced repeated episodes. Classmates were the most common perpetrators, but surprisingly more than 20 percent reported harassment or teasing from teachers and other school staff.” Adults teasing kids? That’s nuts.
My oldest daughter has a severe peanut allergy, so this study upsets me, but not for the reason you would think. You see, I’m upset by it because I have seen quite a different reaction from her peers when it comes to her allergy.


I can’t tell you how many times one of her friends asked his parents not to give him anything with peanuts in it so he can sit with her at lunch. Or the time a friend made sure her birthday cake was safe for my daughter to eat. Or the friend who refused to eat peanut butter before his playdate with her. I’ve seen quite a lot of compassion from these 6-year-olds.
That’s not to say that teasing or a lack of understanding hasn’t happened. There was the jerky kid in preschool who did wave his pb&j sandwich near her face to scare her, but that kid was constantly in trouble and teased and bullied anyone. And I have had numerous conversations with adults who still don’t get it and think I’m blowing her allergy out of proportion. They can’t understand that she can’t have the cake made in a bakery that uses peanuts, even though there aren’t any peanuts IN it.
These things have been rare though. Food allergies are so common these days, that kids understand them and it’s not such a big deal. Just last weekend we were at a birthday party and when it was time for cake and my daughter pulled out her cupcake instead of eating a slice like everyone else, the kids around her asked why. She told them about her allergy and they all understood and dug into their cake. No big deal and no teasing.
Sadly, bullying goes on too frequently. I don’t expect her to sail through school without ever being teased, but I’m not so sure she will be singled out because of her allergy.
Has your child been teased because of his food allergy?

8 Comments

  1. POSTED BY profwilliamss  |  September 29, 2010 @ 11:31 am

    Ummm…..
    The end of this summary of the study states: “A previous study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development showed that 17 percent of children in grades 6 through 10 reported being bullied.”
    I don’t question the importance of anti-bully programs, BUT these stats are curious.
    I searched for the questions- none were provided. Though, the summary states: “More than 43 percent were reported to have had the allergen waved in their face and 64 percent were reported as having experienced verbal teasing. No allergic reactions resulted from the bullying, but approximately 65 percent reported resulting feelings of depression and embarrassment.”
    My question is simple: what are examples of the “teasing”? Is asking a kid with an allergy if they can eat something teasing? On first look, no. But IF the kid is always asked, is told by parents to be careful of food- that food can hurt you, they carry an epi pen, I think almost ANY question about food can be seen as “teasing.”
    To that, the kids self-define what they feel teasing is. They are obviously not objective. So the study should be: “35 percent of children over the age of five FEEL THEY HAVE EXPERIENCED teasing, harrassment, or bullying because of their allergy.”
    Obviously, waving food in a kid’s face is teasing, but without more info, I look at these “studies” with a questionable eye.

  2. POSTED BY tudlow  |  September 29, 2010 @ 11:44 am

    I have had a similar experience as you, Georgette. I have found that her friends and her friends’ parents have been kind, careful and considerate (for the most part, sometimes people forget). I think it helps that I don’t expect everyone to change their children’s diet because of my daughter’s allergy. We don’t live in a peanut free world, we never will, and it’s all about managing risks and teaching your child to accept the responsibility and ramifications of having a life-threatening food allergy. Nobody likes the food police and I find that people are more willing to work with me when I’m not demanding that they find a cake that is not made in a plant that processes peanuts. Hostility is not very effective. I also don’t expect people to remember when they are providing treats for birthdays–it’s just not on their radar, although I always appreciate when they do remember. My daughter always has a back-up, peanut free snack at school for her. It kind of stinks, but it’s reality.
    The findings from this study are disheartening, though. So, here’s a shout out to all the kind Baristavillians and their kids for being considerate, accommodating and helping to keep kids with food allergies safe. Thank you very, very much.

  3. POSTED BY profwilliamss  |  September 29, 2010 @ 12:02 pm

    Though, I do not allow the little prof to bring any food with peanuts to school in his lunch. And we try to be diligent in knowing which foods are safe.
    Thankfully, parents of allergic kids are very knowledgeable.
    So the PB&J is an evening or weekend treat- with a complete wipe down and brush of the teeth.
    To me, I would NEVER want my kid to be the reason some little Angel had a reaction.
    Not worth it.
    Do kids grow out of peanut allergies like some others?

  4. POSTED BY tudlow  |  September 29, 2010 @ 12:11 pm

    I really admire you, prof, for your critical thinking. It’s beautiful to behold. I hope you’re passing this fine quality on to your son because that is evidence of damn good parenting.
    You work at an academic institution, right? Well, why don’t you follow through here and look up the article in your library’s e-journals. You may find that the Oct. issue of the journal is not available quite yet, but I’ll help you out. Here is the citation:
    Lieberman, J. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, October 2010.
    This journal is unfortunately not available at MSU so I’m looking to you here.
    I’m suspicious, too. I need to know whether this is just another specious study that is causing parents of children food allergies to express false outrage. Nothing bothers me more than false outrage. Please keep us all updated/informed.

  5. POSTED BY tudlow  |  September 29, 2010 @ 12:21 pm

    No, only 20% of kids with a peanut or tree nut allergy outgrow it. Anaphylaxis is more common with these types of allergies, too, as compared to dairy or egg. Having an underlying respiratory problem is another risk factor in having a fatal reaction. Unfortunately, my daughter also has asthma. Each reaction is different–one time may be hives and no respiratory problems and the next time, a child’s throat may swell. You never know, which is why a child should always have an epipen. The immune system is very complicated. Accidental ingestion does happen, but death is avoidable with the proper precautions. The risk falls more heavily on teenagers and young adults because they are infamous for not assessing risk properly and they are often non-compliant about carrying their epipen. I’m not scared about my daughter experiencing a fatal reaction now because I think she is always with a person who is prepared for an accident. The teenage years scare me, though. I’m holding out for successful desensitization protocols.

  6. POSTED BY bitter melon  |  September 29, 2010 @ 12:39 pm

    @ Georgette and tudlow, perhaps you can both provide me with some info. What sort of precautions must be made if parents are bringing homemade treats to school for birthdays, etc, or even for playdates? Obviously no nuts, but chocolate is often labeled as having been processed in a plant where nuts may have been processed. Does that mean no chocolate desserts? What else is suspect? What other precautions should I take when preparing food that can hopefully be shared with the whole class? Is there a credible website you can share?

  7. POSTED BY Georgette Gilmore  |  September 29, 2010 @ 12:48 pm

    bitter melon,
    It really depends on a parent’s comfort level and knowledge. We’re very strict with our daughter, so we will not allow her to eat anything if it was processed in a facility where peanuts/nuts were. Also, if something doesn’t have a label and we don’t know where every ingredient came from, she doesn’t eat it.
    Chocolate is difficult. You can get some brands not processed in the same place as peanuts, but it’s hard. I have purchased chocolate from Vermont Nut Free Company and have found certain bags of chocolate in local supermarkets that are okay. The other rule is that you must read lables every time you purchase something. Many times a company switches the manufacturing plant and is no longer safe, so you can’t assume a brand is safe all the time.
    FAAN.org is a great resource.

  8. POSTED BY bitter melon  |  September 29, 2010 @ 1:54 pm

    Thanks Georgette.

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