Young people who have experienced shock from specific food exposures feel less safe and less confident of their school environments.
A rise in the perception of food allergy risk parallels the increasing independence and empowerment that comes as children mature into their teen years, with teenagers feeling less confident of their surroundings and the level of information possessed by school personnel and parents than younger children. 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. Elementary schools were considered safer because of the stronger presence of parents and consistent routines involving supervised lunch rooms, trained personnel, and communication strategies. Interviews revealed the greatest barrier to safe environments regarding food allergies stemmed from uninformed or misinformed friends, school personnel, and other parents. The research provides information for parents and allergic children to help inform school policies around risk management and coping.
The study, "Illustrating Risk: Anaphylaxis Through the Eyes of the Food-Allergic Child," was conducted by Canadian researchers.
Both age groups identified environmental and social barriers that contributed to feelings of isolation, exclusion or being teased. Missing out on school activities, camps, or time with friends was common. "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 subjects identified the greatest barrier to safety as stemming from uninformed or misinformed educators and others.
Young children relied more on parents and teachers to cope, whereas adolescents 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. For teenagers, one successful coping strategy was redefining what is "normal" given their potentially life-threatening reactions to certain food exposures such as tree nuts and some seafood. 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."