It’s the kind of story that leaves parents of food-allergic children baffled and nervous – a schoolyard bully waving an offending snack in a vulnerable kid’s face.
Over the past eight years, researchers have begun to look more closely at food allergy bullying after hearing stories like this from children with food allergies and their parents. American and Canadian studies have found that while most children say they don’t get any grief, about one-third of food-allergic kids are bullied because of their allergy.
Definitions of bullying vary, but children say they’ve been taunted, teased, threatened and, in some cases, had life-threatening allergens thrust in their faces, or even slipped into their food surreptitiously. It was mostly likely to happen at school, with classmates as the perpetrators – although, school staff were sometimes at fault. And, researchers found many parents didn’t know the bullying had taken place.
Also not helpful are some pop culture depictions of food allergies, including a scene in the “Peter Rabbit” movie, where the bunnies attempt to slay their enemy Mr. McGregor by pelting him with blackberries, to which he is allergic.
Families may want to ready themselves to counter allergy bullying, in the event their child is targeted, says Linda Herbert, a psychologist at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., and director of the allergy psychology program.