Bullying affects one in three kids with food allergies, study finds [ CBS News, by Ryan Jaslow, 24/12/2012].

As if having food allergies isn’t hard enough on a child, new research finds at least one-third of kids with food allergies said they are targets of bullying.

Researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City surveyed about 250 children with food allergies and their parents and found 31.5 percent said they are subjected to taunts and threats that frequently involve the allergy-inducing food.

Bullying not only caused higher levels of stress for these children and their parents, but could potentially risk a child’s life if they have a history of severe allergic reactions to the food they’re being taunted with.

“Our results should raise awareness for parents, school personnel, and physicians to proactively identify and address bullying in this population,” study author Dr. Scott H. Sicherer, chief of the pediatric allergy division at Mount Sinai, said in a statement.

Children who reported bullying and their parents were more likely to report a lower quality of life on the survey. About half of surveyed parents said they were “aware” of bullying, and children of parents who said they were aware were more likely to report less stress and a higher quality of life than parents who were unaware of a problem.

The research was published Dec. 24 in Pediatrics.

“Parents and pediatricians should routinely ask children with food allergy about bullying,” said study author Dr. Eyal Shemesh, chief of the division of behavioral and developmental health in the department of pediatrics at The Mount Sinai Medical Center. “Finding out about the child’s experience might allow targeted interventions, and would be expected to reduce additional stress and improve quality of life for these children trying to manage their food allergies.”

Bullying at school or on the Internet — known as cyberbullying — has made headlines in recent years as stories emerge of suicides and the severe emotional toll the mean-spirited teasing can have on children.

“There has been a shift and people are more and more recognizing that bullying has real consequences, it’s not just something to be making jokes about,” Dr. Mark Schuster, chief of general pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital. who wrote am accompanying commentary with the new study, told Reuters.

Schuster also told HealthDay that parents themselves could be more understanding of their classmates’ food allergies, because they may unknowingly be encouraging bullying. He noted some parents may “roll their eyes” or complain they can’t send cookies and other foods to schools because classmates have food allergies, and kids can pick up on this negativity.

Approximately 8 percent of U.S. children have food allergies, according to estimates from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). Nearly 40 percent of these children have a history of severe allergic reactions like anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening.

Childhood Bullying May Lead To Mental Health Issues In Adults [ Medical News Today, by Sarah Glynn, 19/12/2012 ].

Being a victim of childhood bullying alters the structure which surrounds a gene that controls mood, which in turn, makes victims more susceptible to developing mental health issues as they grow older.

The finding was published in the journal Psychological Medicine and came from Isabelle Ouellet-Morin, a scientist at the Centre for Studies on Human Stress (CSHS) at the Hôpital Louis-H. Lafontaine and professor at the Université de Montréal.

Bullying is a serious problem that can affect all people, not just children. A recent study from BMJ showed that adult victims of bullying at work, or even just witnesses of bullying, are more likely to be prescribed antidepressants, tranquilizers or sleeping pills.

Previous research has also observed the long-term effects of bullying, such as behavioral problems, alcohol use, smoking, eating disorders, and mental health issues.

The current study was set out to closely examine the mechanisms that explain how people’s responses to stressful situations become altered due to tough events they experienced.

Ouellet-Morin explained:

“Many people think that our genes are immutable; however this study suggests that environment, even the social environment, can affect their functioning. This is particularly the case for victimization experiences in childhood, which change not only our stress response but also the functioning of genes involved in mood regulation.”

Prior research, conducted by the same author at the Institute of Psychiatry in London (UK), demonstrated that kids who are bullied produce less of the stress hormone, cortisol. However, they behaved more aggressively and had trouble interacting with others.

Ouellet-Morin’s current research shows that when a victim is 10 years old, the structure surrounding a gene called SERT, responsible for controlling serotonin – a neurotransmitter which plays a part in adjusting mood and depression, may be the reason why the child experiences a decrease of cortisol at about age 12.

The researcher made this discovery after evaluating 28 pairs of identical twins who were 10 years old on average. One twin was a victim of bullying at school and the other twin was not bullied by peers.

Ouellet-Morin concluded:

“Since they were identical twins living in the same conditions, changes in the chemical structure surrounding the gene cannot be explained by genetics or family environment. Our results suggest that victimization experiences are the source of these changes.”

The author suggests that experts should now look into the possibility of helping bullied kids change the psychological impact, potentially through interventions at school and by providing comfort and support to victims.