Teens With Food Allergies May Feel Unsafe at School

Younger children report feeling more confident because of greater supervision, small study finds

FRIDAY, Jan. 28, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Children and teens with potentially life-threatening food allergies may feel unsafe, isolated and excluded in their schools, a small study suggests.

Researchers interviewed 10 children, aged 8 to 12, and 10 teenagers in Canada whose food allergies were severe enough that they had to carry injectable adrenaline in case they suffered an allergic reaction.

Compared to the children, teens felt less confident about their surroundings at high school and the information about food allergies possessed by school personnel and parents.

High schools were viewed as less safe because they didn't have homerooms, there were unsupervised lunch areas where food fights sometimes break out, and fewer staff who knew about food allergies. Elementary schools were considered safer because there was a stronger parental presence and consistent routines involving lunch rooms, trained staff, and communication strategies.

The children and teens felt the greatest threats to their safety came from uninformed friends, school personnel and the parents of other students. Many also said a number of environmental and social barriers led to them being teased and feeling isolated and excluded.

The children tended to rely on parents and teachers to cope, while the teens often fended for themselves by avoiding risky foods, educating others about food allergies, trying to understand confusing food labels, and quickly leaving unsafe places. Some said they felt disempowered and overburdened and even developed habits such as constant hand washing or delaying eating until they knew there was an adult present who could drive them to the hospital if they suffered an allergic reaction.

The findings, published in the January issue of the journal Risk Analysis, provide information for food-allergic children and their parents to influence school policies about food allergy risk management and coping, said the researchers in a journal news release.

Because of its limited size, the study should merely be considered exploratory, the authors said.

In the United States, as many as 200 young children die annually from serious food allergies, according to the news release.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has more about food allergies.

SOURCE: Risk Analysis, news release, Jan. 26, 2011
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