Following Monday’s exploration of “bullycide” comes more news about tormented children. More than 30% 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.
Last week, for instance, a fifth-grade Pennsylvania boy was taunted at the peanut-free table in the cafeteria, when a classmate waved a granola bar in his face. The boy had experienced allergic reactions in the past as a result of simply touching peanuts or breathing peanut particles, CNN reports. (More on Time.com: Simple Fix: Family Dinners Help Teens Avoid Drinking and Using Drugs)
In the majority of allergy-related bullying cases, the new survey found, the abuse is verbal, but at least 40% of the time, children are actually touched or threatened with a potentially deadly allergen. Gina Clowes, director of allergymoms.com and a coach for parents on food allergies, who was not involved in the study, commented to CNN:
“[Bullies will] make fun of what they’re eating,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s innocent or malicious, but some kids will literally threaten them with the peanut, or ‘I’m going to throw peanuts at you.'”
Bullying a child because of his food allergy may not be all that different from bullying him about other attributes, but experts note that children with food allergies have an additional burden because they already have take care of themselves medically.
Worse, the teasing doesn’t just come from other kids. The survey found that while classmates were the most common perpetrators of bullying, more than 20% of respondents reported harassment or teasing from teachers and other school staff. (More on Time.com: The ‘Other’ Salt: 5 Foods Rich in Potassium)
“We know that food allergy in children affects quality of life and causes issues like anxiety, depression and stress for them and their parents,” said lead author Dr. Scott H. Sicherer, professor of pediatrics at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in a statement. “Our study is the first to explore teasing, harassment and bullying behaviors aimed at these children. … What is so concerning about these results is the high rate of … bullying, its impact on these vulnerable children, and the fact that perpetrators include not only other children, but adults as well.”
The study surveyed 353 parents and caregivers of food-allergic children, and researchers heard some pretty egregious instances of abuse, including one in which bullies smeared peanut butter on the forehead of an allergic high school student. (More on Time.com: Want Good Health? There Are 10 Apps for That)
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. To learn more about preventing bullying or to see state laws on bullying in schools, see the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ “Stop Bullying Now” program.
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