by Lesley Vogel, VP of Food and Nutrition
Being a kid with a food allergy is hard. Food allergies can make them feel sad, left out, and scared that they’re not safe. Being the parent of a child with a food allergy is hard, too. Keeping your child away from their allergen while including them in as many normal life activities as possible is a balancing act that constantly changes as they grow and develop. But it’s more than just managing food — it’s also managing bullying.
Research shows that both physical and verbal forms of food allergy bullying are common. According to a Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) survey, 70% of food allergy centers reported their patients being bullied for their allergy. Bullying can be in the form of criticism, teasing, social exclusion, and talking behind their back. It can become physically dangerous as well, with some reporting having their allergen waved in their face, purposely touched to their body, and intentionally put in their food. Some have even been forced to eat their allergen, resulting in a reaction.
Unfortunately, bullying isn’t limited to kids. Parents are bullied, too, usually by other adults. In one survey, 1 in 8 parents said they had been made fun of or teased for their child’s allergy. This has been true in my experience raising a daughter with a food allergy. I've been accused of overreacting to the diagnosis, belittled for asking for accommodations from the school, and even teased by fellow parents when I suggested a nut-free approach to snacks in a classroom with shared desks.
It’s not surprising that the psychosocial impact of food allergies is problematic. In a survey of 500 food allergy patients and caregivers, two-thirds reported mental health concerns related to food allergies, and more than half want resources to help them cope with food allergy stress and anxiety.
If you’re a parent or a student struggling with any aspect of having a food allergy, please know that you’re not alone. One in 13 kids have a food allergy and are likely to be experiencing similar hardships. To find support:
- Seek out a food allergy support group (common in many communities and on social media).
- Visit the FARE website to learn about specific strategies to prevent bullying.
- Read this article to learn about methods for talking to your kids about food allergy bullying.
- Check out this article for more information about spotting bullying and taking action.
If you don’t have a food allergy, consider being a supportive partner for your fellow students and parents who do:
- Visit foodallergy.org to learn more about food allergies.
- Refer to the resources above to learn more about food allergy bullying.
- If you know a student or parent with a food allergy, ask them what you can do to support their journey.