Bullies and Your Kids: The Food Allergy Factor

FRESNO, Calif.

They don't look different, but they feel that way.

"I had to sit at a different table than other people, because they had peanut butter and I couldn't sit by my friends," Noah Smith told Ivanhoe.

"If somebody wanted to touch me and they just ate a peanut butter sandwich, or peanuts, they'll have to wash their hands," Rowan Mondel said.

Rowan and Noah are just two of the three million kids with food allergies.

"I feel like in some ways he's being isolated," Mary Kate Mondel, Rowan's mother, said.

Doctor Scott Sicherer, M.D. at Mount Sinai School of Medicine is the first to study links between bullying and food allergies. Turns out 35 percent of kids with allergies over 5 years old are bullied, teased or harassed.

"Ha, ha ... you can't eat this! And even threatening things like, I'm going to put this into your food! I'm going to throw it at you or rub it on you. Occasionally that even happens," Dr. Sicherer explained.

The warning signs are similar to other forms of bullying. A child may be withdrawn or won't want to go to school. These kids may also change their eating habits or come home hungry.

"My biggest fear is that he would sit alone at the peanut free table," Mary Kate Mondel said.

In 1997, one in 250 kids had a peanut allergy. Today, it's one in 70 kids. At Duke University, a study to alter kids' immune systems through small doses of peanut powder is underway. Results showed that 25 percent lost their allergy altogether, and nearly 90 percent can tolerate some peanuts after treatment.

"Oh, it's so nerve-wracking," Mary Kate Mondel said.

Rowan's mom knows this battle takes daily discipline and some thick skin too. A study found 17 percent of kids in grades six to 10 reported being bullied. By comparison, 50 percent of the kids in that age group in the food allergy study claim to be victims. Doctor Sicherer says the rate may be even higher, as some kids likely didn't report the harassment.

Scott Sicherer, MD
The Mount Sinai Medical Center
(212) 241-5548

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