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child being bullied

Food allergy-related bullying assessment methods don’t fully capture hurdles

child being bullied

When asked a simple “yes” or “no” question about food allergy-related bullying, 17% of kids said they’d been bullied, teased or harassed about their food allergy. But when asked to reply to a multi-item list of victimization behaviors, that number jumped to 31%.

Living with a food allergy can greatly impact a child’s everyday life – from limiting participation in social activities to being treated differently by peers. While previous research indicates many kids experience food allergy-related bullying, a new study in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology found that offering kids with food allergies a multi-question assessment gives a more accurate picture of the size and scope of the problem.

When asked a simple “yes” or “no” question about food allergy-related bullying, 17% of kids said they’d been bullied, teased or harassed about their food allergy. But when asked to reply to a multi-item list of victimization behaviors, that number jumped to 31%. Furthermore, Children’s National Hospital researchers found that only 12% of parents reported being aware of it.

The reported bullying ranged from verbal teasing or criticism to more overt acts such as an allergen being waved in their face or intentionally put in their food. Researchers say identifying accurate assessment methods for this problem are critical so children can get the help they need.

“Food allergy-related bullying can have a negative impact on a child’s quality of life. By using a more comprehensive assessment, we found that children with food allergies were bullied more than originally reported and parents may be in the dark about it,” says Linda Herbert, Ph.D., director of the Psychosocial Clinical and Research Program in the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Children’s National and one of the study’s researcher.

“The results of this study demonstrate a need for greater food allergy education and awareness of food allergy-related bullying among communities and schools where food allergy-related bullying is most likely to occur,” Herbert adds.

The study looked at food allergy-related bullying among a diverse patient population and evaluated parent-child disagreement and bullying assessment methods. It included 121 children and 121 primary caregivers who completed questionnaires. The children ranged in age from 9 to 15-years-old and were diagnosed by an allergist with at least one of the top eight IgE-mediated food allergies – peanut, tree nut, cow’s milk, egg, wheat, soy, shellfish and fish.

Of the 41 youth who reported food allergy-related bullying:

  • 51% reported experiencing overt physical acts such as an allergen being waved in their face, thrown at them or intentionally put in their food.
  • 66% reported bullying experiences that are categorized as non-physical overt victimization acts including verbal teasing, remarks or criticisms about their allergy and verbal threats or intimidation.
  • Eight reported relational bullying, such as rumors being spread, people speaking behind their back and being intentionally ignored or excluded due to their food allergy.

The researchers also note that food allergy bullying perpetrators included, but were not limited to, classmates and other students, and bullying most commonly occurred at school.

The authors found that only 12% of parents reported that their child had been bullied because of their food allergy and of those, 93% said their child had reported the bullying to them. Some parents reported they had been made fun of or teased themselves because of concerns about their child’s food allergy.

“It’s important to find ways for children to open up about food allergy-related bullying,” Herbert says. “Asking additional specific questions about peer experiences during clinic appointments will hopefully get children and caregivers the help and support they need.”

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, under Award Number K23AI130184 and National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, part of the National Institutes of Health, under Award Number P20MD000198. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Epinephrine auto-injector for allergy

Assessing daily food allergy self-management among adolescents

Epinephrine auto-injector for allergy

Adolescents reported that epinephrine auto-injectors were frequently available, but least likely to be present outside of the home or school.

Severe food allergic reactions can be life-threatening or fatal and are experienced by up to 40% of children with food allergies, with adolescents at greatest risk. To assess early adolescents’ food allergy self-management, Linda Herbert, Ph.D., and her colleagues at Children’s National Hospital, had 101 adolescents ages 10-14 years complete the Food Allergy Management 24-Hour Recall as an interview.

Adolescents reported that epinephrine auto-injectors were frequently available, but least likely to be present outside of the home or school. Adolescents also relied on past experience with food to determine safety, which is not a recommended strategy. Appropriate assessment of food safety and problem-solving involving how to keep epinephrine auto-injectors with adolescents outside the home should be primary intervention targets.

Study authors from Children’s National include: Linda Herbert, Ph.D., Ashley Ramos, Ph.D., Frances Cooke, Kaushalendra Amatya, Ph.D., and Hemant Sharma, M.D., M.H.S.

Read the full study in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.

piece of bread with question mark cut out

The Food Allergy Parent Mentoring Program: A pilot intervention

piece of bread with question mark cut out

Parents of young children with newly diagnosed food allergy are at risk for poor psychosocial outcomes due to food allergy’s life-threatening nature and demanding management routines. Presently, there are no interventions to support food allergy parents during this adjustment phase.

Ashley Ramos, Ph.D., and colleagues at Children’s National Hospital conducted a pilot study to explore the feasibility, acceptability and preliminary efficacy of a novel intervention using peer mentorship to improve psychosocial functioning in parents of young children with newly diagnosed food allergy. Parent mentors were trained in mentorship and matched with a mentee, a parent of a child under the age of 5 years with newly diagnosed food allergy, for a 6-month intervention period.

Their findings indicate the use of a peer mentorship program to support parents of children with newly diagnosed food allergy is feasible and helpful. It may be appropriate to develop and implement such programs in allergy clinics.

Study authors from Children’s National include: Ashley Ramos, Ph.D., Frances Cooke, Emily Miller and Linda Herbert, Ph.D.

Read the full study in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.

common food allergens

Psychotherapeutic treatment for psychosocial concerns related to food allergy

common food allergens

Pediatric food allergy is a growing public health concern, with 8 percent of children in the United States affected. Although new treatments for food allergies are being developed, the vast majority of cases are currently managed by daily evaluation of food safety and vigilance for accidental allergen exposure and allergic reactions. This often impacts patients’ and caregivers’ quality of life and overall psychosocial functioning.

In a recent article published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, Linda Herbert, Ph.D., and Audrey DunnGalvin, Ph.D., provide a review of mental health concerns related to food allergy. The authors present two cases in which patients received psychological services for food allergy-related anxiety. For both cases, treatment resulted in decreased anxiety and improved food allergy management/oral immunotherapy treatment engagement.

The authors also discuss unmet food allergy-related psychosocial needs, including the lack of food allergy-specific anxiety measures, psychosocial domains that warrant investigation, development of supportive interventions for patients engaging in allergen immunotherapy and the lack of adequate mental health providers with food allergy expertise.

Read the full article in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice.

foods that cause allergies

Patients’ perspectives and needs on novel food allergy treatments

foods that cause allergies

Food allergy is a major public health concern in many countries around the world. In the United States, studies suggest that it affects up to 8% of children and 10% of adults and is responsible for an emergency room admission every three minutes. Historically, the only treatment for food allergy has been complete allergen avoidance combined with rescue medications when accidental exposures occur. Fortunately, advances in food allergy research over the past decade have yielded new treatments, but with these new treatments come new stressors.

In a recent study published in the journal Current Treatment Options in Allergy, Linda Herbert, Ph.D., and colleagues provide an overview of the current state of the literature regarding patients’ and caregivers’ food allergy experiences and needs within the United States. The authors also put forth a set of recommendations regarding how best to proceed with patient-centered development and evaluation of new food allergy treatments.

Read the full study in Current Treatment Options in Allergy.

Assorted foods

Tamp down food allergy anxieties with this quiz


Breastfeeding Mom

Exclusive breastfeeding lowers odds of some schoolchildren having eczema

Breastfeeding Mom

Children exclusively breastfed for the first three months of life had significantly lower odds of having eczema at age 6 compared with peers who were not breastfed or were breastfed for less time, according to preliminary research presented during the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology 2019 Annual Meeting.

Eczema is a chronic condition characterized by extremely itchy skin that, when scratched, becomes inflamed and covered with blisters that crack easily. While genes and the environment are implicated in this inflammatory disease, many questions remain unanswered, such as how best to prevent it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), breastfed infants have reduced risks for developing many chronic conditions, including asthma and obesity.

“The evidence that being exclusively breastfed protects children from developing eczema later in life remains mixed,” says Katherine M. Balas, BS, BA, a clinical research assistant at Children’s National and the study’s lead author. “Our research team is trying to help fill that data gap.”

Balas and colleagues tapped data collected in Infant Feeding Practices Study II, a longitudinal study co-led by the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from 2005 to 2007, as well as the agencies’ 2012 follow-up examination of that study cohort. This study first tracked the diets of about 2,000 pregnant women from their third trimester and examined feeding practices through their babies’ first year of life. Their follow-up inquiry looked at the health, development and dietary patterns for 1,520 of these children at 6 years of age.

About 300 of the children had been diagnosed with eczema at some point in their lives, and 58.5 percent of the 6-year-olds had eczema at the time of the CDC/FDA Year Six Follow-Up. Children with higher socioeconomic status or a family history of food allergies had higher odds of being diagnosed with eczema.

“Children who were exclusively breastfed for three months or longer were significantly less likely (adjusted odds ratio: 0.477) to have continued eczema at age 6, compared with peers who were never breastfed or who were breastfed for less than three months,” Balas adds. “While exclusive breastfeeding may not prevent kids from getting eczema, it may protect them from experiencing extended flare-ups.”

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology 2019 Annual Meeting presentation

  • “Exclusive breastfeeding in infancy and eczema diagnosis at 6 years of age.”

Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019, 9:45 a.m. (PST)

Katherine M. Balas BS, BA, lead author; Karen A. Robbins M.D., co-author; Marni Jacobs, Ph.D., co-author; Ashley Ramos Ph.D., co-author; Daniel V. DiGiacomo, M.D., co-author; and Linda Herbert, Ph.D., director of Children’s Division of Allergy and Immunology’s psychosocial clinical program and senior author.

Assorted foods

Food allergies: a research update

Assorted foods

Promising new therapies for food allergies are on the horizon, including an experimental immunotherapy awaiting federal approval that enables people who are very allergic to eat peanut protein without suffering serious side effects.

Good news, right?

As it turns out, the idea of a child who is highly allergic to a specific food eating that same food item makes kids with lifelong food allergies and their parents a bit queasy.

“It’s a very big paradigm shift. From diagnosis, children are told to avoid their food triggers at all cost. But now they may be counseled to approach the very thing that scares them, put it in their body and see what happens,” says Linda Herbert, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Children’s Division of Psychology and Behavioral Health.

“On the flip side, these new protections could reduce long-term anxieties, replacing daily anxiety about accidental exposure with a newfound sense of empowerment. Either way, a lot of families will need support as they try these new treatments that enable them to ingest a food allergen daily or wear a patch that administers a controlled dose of that food allergen,” Herbert says.

She will discuss food allergy treatments in the pipeline and families’ psychosocial concerns related to daily life as she presents a research update during the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) 2019 Annual Meeting. A select group, including Herbert, has been recognized with an AAAAI Foundation Heritage Lectureship, which honors distinguished AAAAI members with a special lecture and plaque.

Herbert’s symposium targets allied health professionals at the annual meeting, including psychologists, dietitians and nurse practitioners who attend to a host of psychosocial concerns felt by families affected by allergies to foods like eggs, nuts and cow’s milk.

“When patients arrive for outpatient therapy, they feel anxious about being safe when they’re out in public. They have anxieties about their children feeling safe at school as well as managing restaurant meals. They explain difficulties being included in social events like birthday parties, field trips and shared vacations,” Herbert says. “Some families restrict social activities due to stress and anxiety.”

Children’s National Health System takes a multidisciplinary approach for complex conditions like food allergies, she says, combining the expertise of psychologists, medical providers, research nurses, clinical nurses, registered dietitians and other allied health professionals.

“When we all communicate, we can see the complete picture. It strengthens the care that the child receives, and it’s especially powerful that it can happen all at once – rather than going to multiple appointments,” she adds.

During such group huddles, the team agrees on a plan together that is communicated to the family. One ongoing challenge is that one-third of school children with food allergies are bullied or teased.

“A lot of parents don’t necessarily know to ask or how to ask. I frequently suggest that clinicians discuss peer concerns more in clinic.”

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology 2019 Annual Meeting presentation

  • “Allied Health Plenary – Food Allergy Updates.”

Friday, Feb. 22, 2019, 4:15-5:30 p.m. (PST)

Linda Herbert, Ph.D., director of Children’s Division of Allergy and Immunology’s psychosocial clinical program.