— School bullying is a well-known problem, but one particular type is raising fresh concern. It involves children with food allergies. Students, parents and teachers may not be aware that the consequences can be fatal.
Nearly one-third of students diagnosed with food allergies are bullied at school as a result of their condition.
That is according to a new study by researchers at the Mount Sinai Hospital
in New York City.
Results of the study, involving 251 sets of children and parents, appear in the latest online issue of the Pediatrics
Students who are teasing their allergic classmates, by doing such things as putting a peanut in their mouths, do not realize that the body's immunological reaction to the food can be life threatening.
In the worst scenario, the children go into anaphylactic shock and die.
The New York researchers say as many of eight percent of children in the United States have been diagnosed with food allergies.
The president of the World Allergy Organization
, Dr. Ruby Pawankar in Tokyo says schools and societies, at large, need to take more seriously the threats posed by food and other allergies.
“Many people trivialize it thinking of it to be something as small as a rash or even like a runny nose, not realizing that allergy is a systemic condition and it's a very dynamic disease," she said. "So a person can start with just eczema but go on to food allergies which can be fatal, can have drug allergies, can have asthma which itself can be severe. And if you look at the global prevalence it is rising.”
Dr. Pawankar, a professor at the Nippon Medical School, says that environmental and lifestyle factors are partly to blame for what she terms the allergy epidemic, which is spreading in the developing world, as well.
“Then, of course, there are pollutants, preservatives and additives in foods, reduced bio-diversity which actually affects the gut microbiota,” explained Pawanker. "Those microbes that actually can build the body's immune tolerance towards diseases are lacking in the child. So the child becomes more prone towards developing allergic diseases.
Also, she explains, elements in the environment are responsible for changing the functions of genes, causing an increase in allergies.
Dr. Pawankar herself is allergic to crustaceans and credits quick thinking doctors with saving her life as a teenager in her native India with a quick dose of adrenaline.
Her World Allergy Organization in 2013 intends to raise awareness about the seriousness of food allergies. Its campaign for World Allergy Week (April 8 to 14) will focus on food allergies.