Food-allergic children present two-fold increased risk of being bullied

Published Online: July 18, 2014

Strong evidence exists that food allergy negatively impacts on the quality of life of children and adolescents and is associated with psychological distress in patients and their families. Recent studies have reported that food allergic children and adolescents are harassed or teased because of their pathology, and this bullying has important negative consequences for victims, including psychosomatic complaints, and academic, emotional and behavioral problems. However there are no data examining the occurrence and the characteristics of bullying among young patients with food allergy compared to healthy controls.

In a Letter to the Editor recently published in The Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology (JACI), Muraro and colleagues investigated bullying in a sample of Italian students with food allergies matched to healthy controls for age and gender. A survey based on the widely used Olweus bully/victim questionnaire was carried out among 120 food-allergic patients and 120 healthy school children (8-19 years old). Questions assessed bullying in both allergic and healthy groups; in addition, food-allergic participants were asked questions concerning being bullied because of their food allergy.

The authors found that food-allergic patients have a probability of being bullied two times higher than healthy controls. The control group reported a frequency of 31.7%. Among food-allergic students, 60% reported having been victim of some form of bullying at least once in the last two months; 24.2% reported that they have been bullied explicitly because of their food allergy. Older patients showed lower probability of physical bullying while girls are more at risk of social bullying than boys.

The results suggest that food allergic children and adolescents should be included in the category of students at high risk of bullying. This highlights the need to involve health professionals to consider this issue as well as proper interventions. Questions about bullying experiences with peers should be included routinely during visits with patients and parents. Families and schools should be educated about the need to address this risk when it is present.

The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI) is the official scientific journal of the AAAAI, and is the most-cited journal in the field of allergy and clinical immunology.

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