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Study Says Food Allergies Could Affect Kids' Mental Health

Kids who are allergic to particular foods experience higher rates of anxiety, according to the study.

by Gigen Mammoser
Jul 2 2017, 6:00pm

Photo by Flickr user Dean Hochman.

For children with food allergies, the issue may go beyond a safety concern and affect their mental health.

New research published this week from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health has linked an increased prevalence of childhood anxiety amongst low socioeconomic ethnic minority populations of kids with food allergies.

Renee Goodwin, PhD in the Department of Epidemiology and lead author explains that increased anxiety around food allergies is not merely tied to the fear of a reaction or medical emergency.

"[It] may be just as strongly related to the social situations that children with a food allergy must navigate," she tells MUNCHIES. "The most heightening scores were in social anxiety and fear of humiliation."

Goodwin and her peers discovered that among children with a food allergy, 57 percent reported feelings of anxiety, compared to only 48 percent of children without one.

READ MORE: How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Peanut

She believes that there is the potential for stigmatization around food allergies, and that children may feel increased anxiety about being "different" from other kids.

Research and advocacy group FARE estimates that one in 13 children has a food allergy. A report in The New England Journal of Medicine estimated that peanut allergies in particular have more than quadrupled in the last 20 years.

Public school lunchrooms have in recent years become the focal point of a battle between parents and administrators over everything from what foods kids can bring from home, to the nutrition value (or lack thereof) of school lunches.

READ MORE: This Mom Says a School Humiliated Children with Cheese Sandwiches

And these policies could be having an effect on the mental health of kids.

There need to be "greater efforts at promoting inclusion of children with food allergy sensitivity while keeping children with food allergy safe is critically important for mental health and social development," says Goodwin.

For administrators, there is clearly a fine line between inclusion of those with allergies while at the same time keeping them, and other children, safe.

"Creating and strictly following policies that promote inclusion and acceptance of diversity in all ways—all children have "something" that makes them different—is an important lesson in itself," says Goodwin.