More than 30 percent of children with food allergies report being bullied or teased–often repeatedly–because of their eating restrictions, according to survey results published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, Time magazine reports.
Teasing incidents include a fifth-grade Pennsylvania boy with a severe peanut allergy being taunted last week at the peanut-free table in the school cafeteria when a classmate waved a granola bar in his face.
Most of the time, the new survey found, the abuse is verbal, but at least 40 percent of the time, children are actually touched or threatened with a potentially deadly allergen.
Perhaps most disturbing is the finding that the taunting doesn't just come from other kids. The survey found that more than 20 percent of respondents reported harassment or teasing from teachers and other school staff.
“We know that food allergy in children affects quality of life and causes issues like anxiety, depression and stress for them and their parents,” lead author Dr. Scott H. Sicherer, professor of pediatrics at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, said in a statement. “The results are disturbing, as they show that children not only have to struggle with managing their food allergies, but also commonly bear harassment from their peers.”
The study surveyed 353 parents and caregivers of food-allergic children, and researchers recorded some outrageous instances of abuse, including one in which bullies smeared peanut butter on the forehead of an allergic high school student. No allergic reactions resulted from any of the bullying incidents, but approximately 65 percent of victims reported resulting feelings of depression and embarrassment.
Food allergies affect about 12 million Americans, including 3 million children. The study's authors suggest that anti-bullying programs in schools should include information about kids with allergies.