Children with food allergies at higher risk of anxiety, study finds

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Researchers say the condition can lead to feelings of isolation

Parents of children with serious food allergies are constantly on the lookout for ingredients that could be fatally harmful, and not surprisingly, a new study from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health shows that these same children also have an increased risk of experiencing anxiety.

Lead author Dr. Renee Goodwin says that these anxious feelings stem from several different sources, but in many cases it can leave kids feeling socially isolated.

"There are a number of possible explanations for the relationship found between food allergy diagnosis and increased social anxiety issues in this sample of pediatric patients," she said. "Management of a potentially life-threatening condition may be anxiety provoking, and some children may experience increased social anxiety about being ‘different’ from other children depending on their age and how food allergy is managed by adults in a particular setting."

Stressed out

The researchers analyzed 80 pediatric patients between the ages of 4 and 12, predominantly from low socioeconomic backgrounds, to see what effect food allergies had on their mentality. They found that those with a food allergy were 57% likely to suffer from anxiety or some sort of mood disorder, compared to 48% for children who didn’t have a food allergy.

The findings suggested that in addition to the social anxiety of feeling different, children often felt responsible for placing a burden on their families.

"Management of food allergy can be expensive both in terms of food shopping, meal preparation, and the cost of epinephrine auto-injectors, which expire annually," said Goodwin. "These demands could result in higher levels of anxiety for those with fewer financial resources and further heighten anxiety symptoms in children and their caregivers."

The researchers believe that education on food allergies is still the most important thing for parents and school officials to focus on, especially given how common they are becoming.

"Given the strong association between food allergy and social anxiety in children future investigations on the food allergy-mental health relationship are also warranted in clinical, school, and community-based settings which could aid in the development of interventions," Goodwin concluded.

The full study has been published in The Journal of Pediatrics.

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