MIAMI, FL – October 21, 2013 – Bullying because of asthma and food allergies isn’t any different from any other kind of bullying. Children with chronic illnesses are more frequently teased and harassed and as a result, victims are left feeling powerless and vulnerable, which often produces devastating psychological consequences such as severe depression or even suicide. How can we combat bullying? Two of the most important steps parents, physicians, and other professionals can take to combat bullying is to promote prevention and be proactive about bullying risks, including working with schools and public policy makers.
According to a recent survey published in the October 2012 issue of Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, about 25 percent of children with food allergies are bullied, teased, or harassed. When children under five were excluded from the results, the figure rose to 35 percent, and among students in grades six through ten, it was as high as 50 percent. Three hundred fifty three teens, adults up to age 25, and parents and caregivers of children with food allergies completed the survey conducted. Peanut allergies affected 81 percent of the group, and 84 percent had multiple food allergies. Fifty-five percent were between the ages of 4 and 11, and 61 percent were boys.
“As an allergist, I see at least 2-3 new patients each week who have life-threatening food allergies. While allergists and pediatricians recognize the obvious increase in food allergies and bullying, we are just now realizing that many of our children have to face both issues in the school setting,” said Dr. Dana Wallace, board-certified allergist at our Emerald Hills office, and past president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.
Food allergies affect an estimated 8 percent of school children (9.5 percent in Florida). The most common food allergies are peanut, tree nut, fish, shellfish, milk, egg, soy, and wheat. Additionally, asthma affects 9.5 percent of children and is responsible for 36,000 students missing school every day. Children with asthma have limitations on physical activity and experience attacks of asthma during the school day that often leads to problems with social adaptation and an increase in bullying by peers.
In a different study conducted by researchers at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at The Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, and the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, found that those who reported bullying, 86 percent reported multiple episodes. Verbal abuse was the most common form of bullying and 82 percent of these episodes occurred at school, and 80 percent took place among classmates.
Furthermore, 21 percent reported teachers or school staff as the perpetrators and 79 percent said the bullying and harassing were solely related to a food allergy, whereas others reported being harassed for having to carry medication for their food allergy. In addition, 57 percent of those bullied reported being touched or harassed by the actual food allergen. Of 67 children who reported such consequences, about 65 percent described being sad, depressed, or embarrassed, the study showed.
Signs and Prevention
Florida Center For Allergy & Asthma Care advices doctors to tell parents to talk to their children about bullying, and teach them how to resolve conflicts, and promote respectful relationships.
The total economic impact per child annually in the United States is $4,184 and $24.5 billion in the U.S. Teens with food allergies describe school-related issues such as limited social activities, limited food choices, being a burden to others, and peer misunderstanding due to lack of education about food allergies.
When bullying is identified early, a mental health professional can intervene and help stop the cycle preventing harmful or even fatal outcomes. Because bullying frequently results in physical problems, any physician who cares for children or adolescents, whether in primary care or in a specialty area, may be in an important position to recognize the effects of bullying; sometimes even before parents or guardians become aware of it.
The warning signs are similar to other forms of bullying. A child may appear sad, upset, withdrawn, or anxious and/or have trouble sleeping, loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss. He or she may also refuse or express reluctance to go to school, although some children may be quite hesitant to admit that bullying is the reason. With that said, the most important step in the fight against bullying is promoting prevention; by creating public awareness we can help the children facing these challenges feel safe.
For more information, call Florida Center For Allergy & Asthma Care at 1-877-4-ALLERGY or visit www.florida-allergy.com.
About Florida Center For Allergy & Asthma Care
Florida Center For Allergy & Asthma Care has been in business for more than 38 years and has board certified physicians with extensive experience in treating both adults and children. FCAAC has 18 centers throughout South Florida, serving communities in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. The Centers specialize in the testing and treatment of adults and children who suffer from allergies, asthma and other disorders of the immune system. Among the most common allergies treated are allergic skin diseases, food, drug and pet allergies. Florida Center For Allergy & Asthma Care Research conducts clinical trials on new medications. The goal of the FCAAC team is to provide professional and quality care resulting in total patient satisfaction.
Editor’s Note: Interviews with Dr. Wallace available upon request.