Food allergies make kids a target of bullies

Food allergy bullyingBy Elizabeth Landau, CNN

It’s tough enough having to avoid products with peanuts and other ingredients as a kid with severe food allergies. It’s tougher when someone at school waves a granola bar in your face at the peanut-free lunch table.

That’s what happened last week to a Pennsylvania fifth-grader whose mother asked that he not be identified. The boy had experienced allergic reactions to merely touching peanuts or breathing peanut particles in the past, so the act of granola-waving was more serious than for other allergy sufferers.

“He said [he was] scared, and ‘sad that he would do that to me,’ and ‘mad that he would do that to me,’ and worried that it’s going to happen again,” the boy’s mother said.

As the prevalence of food allergies grows in America, doctors are becoming more conscious of a disturbing trend in children getting picked on for not being able to eat certain foods.

According to a new study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, about 35 percent of children over age 5 with food allergies have experienced bullying, teasing or harassment. The study, which mostly surveys the parents of these children, said those negative social experiences, which included physical and verbal incidents, happened because of food allergies.

“The school has to really address it. It’s not the child’s job to take care of this problem, because there’s already an imbalance of power,” said study author Dr. Scott Sicherer, pediatric allergist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

Gina Clowes, director of allergymoms.com and a coach for parents on food allergies, hears stories about food-allergic kids targeted by others in school all the time.

“They’ll make fun of what they’re eating,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s innocent or malicious, but some kids will literally threaten them with the peanut, or ‘I’m going to throw peanuts at you.’ “

While bullying with regard to food allergies isn’t all that different from bullying about other attributes, children with food allergies have an additional burden because they have the responsibility of taking care of themselves medically already, Clowes and Sicherer stressed.

“Here you have a child who already has to deal with not eating the same things as the other children; they already have to worry about is this meal safe for them; about having an allergic reaction,” Sicherer said. “This is an additional problem of someone making it even harder on them.”

The warning signs are similar to other forms of bullying, Clowes said: A child may appear sad, upset, withdrawn, anxious or say that he or she doesn’t want to go to school. But parents should also look for changes in their kids’ eating habits: They may come home with an untouched lunchbox, for example.

“I’ve had parents say kids go the entire day without eating because they’re being made fun of for special foods,” Clowes said.

The latest data from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention show that about 3.9 percent of children younger than 18 in the United States have food allergies, representing an 18 percent increase from 1997 to 2007.

None of the incidents reported in the study resulted in allergic reactions, but the danger of them resulting in a dangerous reaction is self-evident, the study authors wrote. The emotional toll is also great. Common consequences included feelings of sadness or depression and embarrassment or humiliation.

This is the first study to address the scope of bullying as it relates to food allergies, the authors said. The information about allergic individuals came from 353 surveys, most of which were completed by parents who were attending various Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network conferences.

More children with food allergies may experience acts of bullying and other targeted negative behaviors than their peers, Sicherer said. A 2001 National Institute of Child Health and Human Development study found that about 17 percent of children in grades six to 10 reported being bullied. By comparison, 50 percent of kids in that age group in the food allergy study were reported to have experienced bullying, teasing or harassment.

The study had the limitation of obtaining most data from parents, rather than children themselves. On the other hand, some children likely do not report these incidents to their parents, meaning Sicherer and colleagues could have underestimated behaviors targeted at food-allergic children.

Parents should inform teachers and administrators right away if an incident occurs, Clowes said.

Children should try to stay away from the person who has bullied them and stand by trusted friends, Sicherer said. Ultimately, it also takes intervention on someone else’s part to speak to whomever is doing the bullying, so children should tell trusted adults what’s going on, he said.

Dr. Stanley Fineman, a practicing allergist with the Atlanta Allergy & Asthma Clinic, said allergists don’t normally ask children if they’ve been bullied or harrassed, but that this study suggests they should. In his own practice, Fineman has heard of incidents such as a child eating peanut butter and then spitting on a peer. He will more regularly inquire about allergy-related incidents because of the new data, he said.

“We as physicians need to specifically ask our patients directly what sort of bullying or harassment type situations have they had in school, because this is something that has not been on our radar screen as it probably should be,” he said.

The Pennsylvania mother whose child got a granola bar waved in his face last week isn’t worried about her son managing his allergies — it’s the other kids she’s nervous about. The teachers at the school have been understanding, but she believes there needs to be more education that one person’s allergy is not the same as another’s — and her son is particularly sensitive. She also dislikes that the school puts her son into a category called “peanut kids,” who get a peanut-free table.

“It’s very open, it’s obvious who has a problem and what the problem is,” she said. “Sometimes I don’t think people understand the severity of it.”

National Farm to School Network

Farm to schoolFarm to school is the practice of sourcing local food for schools or preschools and providing agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities, such as school gardens, farm field trips and cooking lessons. Farm to school improves the health of children and communities while supporting local and regional farmers. Since each Farm to School program is shaped by its unique community and region, the National Farm to School Network does not prescribe or impose a list of practices or products for the farm to school approach. The National Farm to School Network supports the work of local farm to school programs all over the country by providing free training and technical assistance, information services, networking, and support for policy, media and marketing activities. Our network includes national staff, eight regional lead agencies and leads in all 50 states. Click on the map above to contact the state lead in your area for more information, or contact someone on our national staff directly. We are here to help you get started and keep programs growing!

What is farm to school? 
Farm to school is broadly defined as any program that connects schools (K-12) and local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving student nutrition, providing agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities, and supporting local and regional farmers. Farm to school programs exist in all 50 states, but since farm to school is a grassroots movement, programs are as diverse as the communities that build them.

What are the benefits of farm to school?
Farm to school programs are based on the premise that students will choose healthier foods, including more fruits and vegetables, if products are fresh, locally grown, and picked at the peak of their flavor and if those choices are reinforced with educational activities. Farm to School programs provide benefits to the entire community: children, farmers, food service staff, parents, and teachers.

  • The choice of healthier options in the cafeteria through farm to school meals results in consumption of more fruits and vegetables with an average increase of 0.99 to 1.3 servings per day, including at home.
  • Schools report a 3 to 16 percent increase in school meal participation when farm-fresh food is served through farm to school programs.
  • Farm to school programs open new markets for farmers and help expand their customer base by raising awareness about local food systems.
  • Farm to school programs are also known to increase school meal participation rates.

How can I start a farm to school program in my community?
Farm to school programs exist in all 50 states, so support and resources are available no matter where you are. And you don’t have to be a cafeteria manager or school board member to get involved – parents, teachers and even students have the power to start programs and make change happen! For tips and resources to help you get started, visit the National Farm to School Network‘s website, and read the “How to Start a Program” page.

Why We Choose Cloth Diapers

Cloth Diapersby Stephanie of “Mama and Baby Love”

I got Penelope’s size large cloth diapers this week and I thought I would take a moment to explain why we cloth diaper in the first place.

Surprisingly, cloth diapering has actually been a very pleasant experience. I thought it was going to be much more work. It is more laundry, but other than that, its pretty convenient. I do a load of diapers about every two days. About once a month, I hang the stained diapers outside on a clothes line to dry and it magically gets all the stains out. I have about twenty diapers in my stash. I do a dry pail system where I just throw the dirty diaper into a trashcan with a pail liner. When its time to wash them, I put everything in the wash, liner included and do one rinse cycle on cold and then a wash cycle with detergent on hot. I have to do two cycles in the dryer to fully dry them. We use a diaper called Dream Eze by the Natural Baby Company and they are a type of diaper that are called an All In One or an AIO. That means I don’t have to stuff any additional inserts to use the diaper. These types of diapers are most like disposables in that way, but they are also some of the more expensive cloth diapers on the market. I just put them on, snap her up and Penelope is ready to go. Even Peter is a pro at putting them on her. I used a Pocket diaper when she was a newborn, until she was about three months old. It was a diaper called Pocket Change by the same company, but they don’t make them anymore. I really liked those diapers, even though I had to spend extra time stuffing the inserts, because they were so trim. But I have really grown to love the Dream Eze diapers, and even though they are a bit bulkier than the Pocket Change, it’s not that bad, the only thing that she has a hard time fitting into are jeans. The company has discontinued the Dream Eze style as well, but has come out with a similar style and it’s a one size fits all. That means you have snaps in the front and the diaper ‘grows’ as your baby grows. The concept seems great, especially considering you save lots of money by buying only one size diaper. But I am glad I have three different sizes. I hate big bulky cloth diapers and the one size diapers seem like they would be pretty bulky, especially on a newborn, but I don’t speak from experience. I also use cloth wipes and make my own wipe spray, which is a piece of cake to make. I spray the solution on a cloth wipe and wipe her like normal. We bought all our diapers locally from a business called Ecological Babies. The owner, Jen, was super helpful and helped me picked out the diaper that was right for me. I never once felt overwhelmed.

Ok, so back to what I was originally wanting to write about: why we cloth diaper. My biggest reason is not because of the environment or to save money, I am most concerned about what touches my daughter’s skin. I have done no real research at all, but to me, the chemicals that a disposable diaper has in them to make them so absorbent just can’t be any good. Now, those chemicals may or may not give her cervical cancer or exzema, but they sure aren’t doing any good to her skin, so I want to avoid it. I like knowing that what is touching her skin all day and all night is organic cotton. Makes me sleep better. Well, not really, since Penelope gets up every hour but you know what I mean. And she has never had a diaper rash in her life and that is always great.
The next biggest reason we cloth diaper is for the environment. We are greatly reducing our carbon footprint by choosing to cloth diaper. Even when you calculate in the washing and drying of the diapers (this is not the case if you use a diaper service). I saw a great article the other day that said it takes nearly 3.5 billion gallons of oil to produce the 18 billion throwaway diapers that Americans toss each year. To put that in perspective, that’s more than the amount of crude we import annually from Kuwait. The article went on to say that it takes 2/3 cup of petroleum to make just one disposable diaper. Pretty nutty, huh? To that, I say NO Thank You, this is not OK and I will not participate in that much petroleum consumption.

The third reason we cloth diaper is to save money. Now, we have already spent almost a grand on about 64 diapers, two pail liners, 36 cloth wipes and a shower sprayer that connects to our toilet (this is for later when her poo is solid and I have to dump it in the toilet before putting it in the pail). So we are not seeing any savings this first year, as that is about the amount that we would have spent on disposables her first year, but next year we will see some ROI. And when we use all the same diapers again for baby number two, that’s when the savings will really add up!

I will use a disposable here and there, I am not a Nazi about it. If all my diapers are in the wash, on goes a disposable. If I am running a bunch of errands, then I will take one cloth diaper and a couple of disposables because the cloth diapers take up so much room in my diaper bag. I also never use cloth wipes when I am out, I don’t want to deal with the hassle of pre-soaking my wipes then forgetting about them and having a mold issue. The wipes and disposables that we do use in a pinch are from Seventh Generation have the least amount of chemicals possible.

Has anyone wanted to try cloth diapers but felt overwhelmed? The Natural Baby Company has recently come out with a really great product that has flushable liners that would be a great cloth diaper with training wheels.

Establishing Good Toothbrushing Habits (Audio)

How to brushSource: A Minute for Kids

Toothbrushing time can be a challenge for parents, but a child that ignores proper dental hygiene may face future dental complications. Children should brush their teeth at least twice a day and flossing once a day is recommended.

Listen here for tips on teaching your children how to care for their teeth and mouth.

When Your Child Says “I Hate You!”

I hate youBy Cris Beam

You know you’re going to get some fussing and complaining when you tell your kid to turn off the TV or video games, but then one day she lets loose with “I hate you!” Whoa! Why has your sweet child suddenly turned on you–and what should you do to get her to stop the mean language?

“Don’t take it personally,” says Sal Severe, Ph.D., author of How to Behave So Your Children Will, Too! Kids use inflammatory language like this when they’re geniunely upset but don’t have the tools to express themselves precisely. “Your six-year-old isn’t able to say ‘I feel frustrated and angry because you won’t let me watch my television program.'” To put it simply, she wants you to know she’s mad. Severe’s advice: Acknowledge her anger calmly, but stand your ground. “Say ‘I’m sorry you hate me, because I love you very much.’ Then add, ‘It’s okay that you’re angry, but you still have to turn off the TV.'” You can mention that everyone gets upset occasionally, but it’s not all right to take it out on someone else.

If your child declares she hates you when you discipline her, don’t up the ante: “You’re teaching her that she can push your buttons, and this gives her too much emotional control,” Severe says. You want to remain calm to show her that you’re the one in complete command of the situation. Also resist the urge to tell her in the middle of a screaming fit that she doesn’t really mean “hate”–this will demonstrate that her word choice has power and she’ll use it again and again. Later, when things have settled down, you might explain that “I’m angry” or “I’m disappointed” are better alternatives.