Discussion about kids with food allergies tends to focus on the
elementary school set. Parents and teachers are encouraged to
play a very active role in making sure the classroom is a safe
haven for little ones.
But what about when those young kids with food allergies enter high school?
Despite being older and wiser, new research reveals teens with severe food
allergies feel less safe and less confident school personnel will
keep them safe once they leave the sixth grade.
The study consulted directly with 20 kids -- ten children ages 8 through 12 and ten teenagers -- from various public schools in Ontario, Canada.
All the participants have potentially life-threatening food allergies which require them to carry an injectable form of adrenaline to treat episodes should they come in contact with a food allergen.
Both age groups said they felt isolated, excluded, or were more likely to be teased as a result of various environmental or social barriers. Most kids said they regularly miss out on school activities, camps, or time with friends.
“I feel left out because I can’t have everything, like my friends and the other people in my family,” one 16-year-old said.
Close friends provide key support to allergic kids but the teenage study participants said the thing that kept them from feeling totally safe in school was uninformed or misinformed teachers and school personnel.
And while those can be found at any grade level, elementary schools were considered safer because of the stronger presence of parents and consistent routines involving supervised lunch rooms, trained staff, and better communication strategies.
High schools were perceived as less safe because of the lack of
homerooms, unsupervised lunch areas where food fights sometimes
take place, and more uninformed staff.
Young children relied more on parents and teachers to cope, whereas teens often anxiously fended for themselves by avoiding risky foods, educating others, navigating confusing food labels and quickly escaping from unsafe places.
Some felt disempowered and overburdened and even developed symptoms like constant hand washing or waiting to eat until an adult was present who was available to drive them to the hospital.
Lead authors Nancy Fenton and Susan Elliott said the study “provided insight into more effective ways of informing educational and interventional efforts in responding to risk in schools.”
The study is considered exploratory by the authors, who caution against broader conclusions because of its limited sample size, but said the findings also suggest teens can benefit from discussing their perceptions of the safety of their school environment in improving their ability to cope.
The research also provides information for parents and allergic children to help inform school policies around risk management and coping.
Food allergy affects up to 6 percent of young children and results in an estimated 150-200 fatalities each year in the U.S. and 15-20 deaths in Canada.
Accidental exposures are common and occur in homes, camps and restaurants in addition to schools.
The study, “Illustrating Risk: Anaphylaxis Through the Eyes of the Food-Allergic Child,” was conducted by Canadian researchers and appears in the January issue of the journal “Risk Analysis” published by the Society for Risk Analysis.
The authors include Nancy Fenton of McMaster University, Susan J. Elliott of the University of Waterloo, Lisa Cicutto of the University of Toronto, Ann E. Clarke of McGill University, Laurie Harada of Anaphylaxis Canada, and Elizabeth McPhee of the Community Services Agency in Hamilton, Ontario.
The research was funded by AllerGen-NCE, Inc., with the support of Anaphylaxis Canada.