Anxiety More Prevalent in Children With Food Allergies

Health Writer

Children with food allergies had a significantly higher prevalence of anxiety than children without food allergies according to a study published in The Journal of Pediatrics in August 2017.

The recent study looked at 80 children both with and without food allergies from a neighborhood in the Bronx, New York. Of those with food allergies, 57 percent had symptoms of anxiety, compared to 48 percent of children without a food allergy. Researchers indicated that food allergy was associated with higher levels of social anxiety particularly and higher levels of overall anxiety.

This study looked specifically at minority children in low socioeconomic homes; however, previous studies have also linked food allergies with anxiety. A review of studies published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings found that adolescents who had a history of food allergies reported significantly more anxiety symptoms than those who did not have food allergies. In 2011, the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EACCI) reported that children with food allergies experienced anxiety and loneliness as a result of their allergies.

Renee Goodwin, Ph.D., lead author of the study conducted in the Bronx, believes that children with food allergies might have elevated levels of social anxiety because they fear social rejection and humiliation. They might also be concerned about being “different” than their classmates. Some children, especially those with life-threatening allergies, might live with a constant fear of being exposed to the wrong foods and having a medical emergency at school.

The EACCI found that 17 percent of children with food allergies declined attending any parties or picnics with other children and 24 percent brought their own food along. Mary Esselmen, in the magazine Allergic Living, explains that for children with food allergies, there is always “the nagging fear that a life-threatening reaction could be a few wrong bites away.”

Michael Pistner, M.D. and Jennifer LeBovidge, authors of the “Living Confidently with Food Allergy” handbook, offer suggestions for parents in helping their children better cope with living with food allergies:

Pay attention to the words you use to describe your child’s food allergies. Stay away from phrases such as “That can kill you,” or, “You are deathly allergic.” Instead, use terms that indicate food allergies can be managed and that don’t make it sound scary.

Teach your children skills to help them manage their allergies. This includes reading food labels, taking medication, and using an epi pen.

Be prepared. Before sending your child into a new situation, talk to adults who will be present and discuss with your child steps they can take to keep themselves safe.

Listen to your child’s concerns. Instead of brushing off concerns with, “Don’t worry, you will be fine,” take the time to listen to your child’s fears. Then work together to find a solution, for example, your child might worry that she won’t remember how to use the epi injector. You can then take time to go over the instructions until she feels more comfortable.

The more well-informed and comfortable you are about managing your child’s allergies, the more your child will feel safe.

See more helpful articles:

Grandparents Guide to Food Allergies

Protecting Your Child From Food Allergies at Preschool

7 Ways Parenting Styles Affect Child Anxiety

Talking to Your Children About Anxiety

Create an Anxiety Toolkit for Your Child