San Diego

Bullying Grows Among Children with Food Allergies, Sometimes by Teachers: Researchers

'What’s surprising is that 20 percent of children report that teachers or school staff have been the ones doing the bullying'

Children across San Diego County are also dealing with an increase of bullying due to their food sensitivity, and sometimes they are being bullied by their teachers, a doctor at Rady Children's Hospital said. 

Doctors at Rady Children’s Hospital said they have seen a 50% increase of food allergies among children in the last two decades. 

"What’s surprising is that 20 percent of children report that teachers or school staff have been the ones doing the bullying," said Food Allergy Director Dr. Stephanie Leonard, who is part of an ongoing food allergy research project at Rady Children’s Hospital.

Teachers will sometimes roll their eyes at students who bring up a food allergy or accuse them of lying about a food allergy or exaggerating it, Leonard explained.

These behaviors can lead children to feel embarrassment or shame.

According to the research discovered so far in Rady Children’s Food Allergy program, about two kids in every classroom may have a food allergy, which adds an extra stress to kids in schools.

Allergies could come from any food but these eight common allergens account for 90% of all reactions in kids: milk, eggs, peanuts, soy, wheat, tree nuts (such as walnuts and cashews), fish, and shellfish (such as shrimp), according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Rady Children’s Food Allergy program is offering several solutions for San Diego schools to better educate those who care for children with food allergies. For instance, doctors encourage schools to hold "food-free parties" and to monitor unstructured time, like recess and lunch, and intervene when necessary.

"When you change policies or make new rules (ensure) that it’s school-wide and not just because of one person or student," said Dr. Leonard. "What we don’t want to happen is that another student says 'we can’t have food at our parties in class anymore because so-and-so has a peanut allergy.' That certainly singles them out and makes them a higher risk for bullying."

Additionally, Dr. Leonard said it is important for students to have a safe person at school they can address when bullying does occur.

Parents can also look out for key signs to determine if a child might have been a victim of bullying, like a reluctance to go to school, change in mood or a decline in academic performance.

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