In Pittsburgh, a high schooler had to be treated for anaphylaxis after three classmates brought in pineapple, to which she is highly allergic. One of the classmates rubbed the pineapple on her hands and gave the girl a high five.
In another story, a 13-year-old boy with a milk allergy died from anaphylaxis after one of his classmates flicked cheese into his mouth.
These stories may have made headlines, but countless instances of food allergy bullying occur every day. About 35 percent of children with food allergies over age 5 say they have been bullied because of their food allergies.1 And 82 percent of parents of children with life-threatening food allergies believe their children have been bullied.2
Food allergy bullying goes beyond emotional and mental torment. It puts children's lives at risk, often because others don't understand how serious food allergies are and the consequences of their bullying. Media and entertainment often add to this lack of understanding, leading to more food allergy bullying.
Food allergy bullying can lead to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergy reaction. Symptoms can occur quickly after contact with the allergen. It requires treatment right away with epinephrine and a visit to a hospital emergency room. Symptoms can include hives, trouble breathing, vomiting, feeling of doom, and swelling of the lips, tongue or throat. Anaphylaxis can lead to death in a matter of minutes.
Food allergy bullies may try to harm a child with food allergies by hiding the allergen in safe foods, trying to make them eat it or smearing it on their skin. They may also make threats to harm the child with their allergen. Children who are bullied because of their food allergies fear for their lives nearly every day. That is a level of stress no child should live with.
Kids With Food Allergies (KFA), a division of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), supports No Appetite for Bullying, a campaign to raise awareness about food allergy bullying. We cannot allow food allergy bullying to continue, and we must all work together to stop it.
What Can I Do If My Child Is Being Bullied?
There is no one way to handle a food allergy bully. You may have to work with your child and your child's school to find different ways that work for your situation. And not all bullying happens at school. It can also happen at other activities, like scouts or gymnastics. Here are some things to try if you are faced with a food allergy bully.
Talk to your child about bullying. Teach your child how to know they are being bullied. Let them know this is not acceptable and they don't have to tolerate it. Help them identify an adult who can intervene to prevent further bullying.
Watch your child for signs of bullying and act early. Your child may be afraid to tell you they are being bullied. If your child won't talk, watch for these signs:
- Reluctance to go to school or other activities
- Makes excuses to not go to school or activities, like complaining often of headaches or belly aches
- Doesn't want to ride the bus
- Depression, withdrawal and changes in eating and sleeping habits
- Unexpected drop in grades
- Unexplained injuries
- Lost or broken belongings
If you notice these signs, talk to your child right away to find out what's going on.
Form allies. Get to know your child's teachers, bus driver and the adults in charge of other activities. Ask them to watch for signs of bullying. Make sure they understand the seriousness of food allergy bullying and encourage them to be an advocate for your child. This is something you can do proactively to help prevent bullying.
Raise awareness in your child's school. Talk to your child's teacher about making food allergies part of the lesson plan. Food allergy awareness can help children understand your child's allergy better and make it seem less strange to them. Also, encourage your child's teacher and school staff to make food-related holidays more inclusive. We have classroom tips for holidays like Valentine’s Day, Halloween and Christmas.
Watch for bullying outside of school. Most bullying happens at school, but it can also happen in other situations too. When you enroll your child in activities like scouting troops, dance, extracurricular sports and after-school programs, find out their policies in case bullying occurs. Make sure they have a plan in place you feel comfortable with before you sign them up.
Create a safety plan with your child. Teach your child what to do if they experience bullying. Let them know they can tell teachers, school administrators, nurses, guidance counselors and community group leaders about the bullying. Help them understand how important it is for them to talk to an adult to keep it from continuing. They need to know bullying is never OK, especially when their safety is threatened.
Share your story. Help us raise awareness about food allergy bullying by telling your child's story. By spreading awareness, you can make a difference for children with food allergies affected by bullying.
1. Lieberman JA, Weiss C, Furlong TJ, Sicherer M, Sicherer, SH. Bullying among pediatric patients with food allergy. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2010:105(4): 282-286. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20934627
2. Noappetiteforbullying.com. (2018). No Appetite For Bullying. [online] Available at: https://www.noappetiteforbullying.com/ [Accessed 12 Feb. 2018].