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30th Jun 2017

Experts say children with food allergies have higher anxiety levels

Approximately five percent of children suffer from food allergies in Ireland.
food allergy anxiety children

In Ireland, statistics show that approximately five percent of children suffer from food allergies.

food allergy anxiety children

Researchers from Columbia University in the US have identified a link between food allergy and childhood anxiety in children.

The team, from the prestigious university’s schools of public health and medicine in New York, found that children with a food allergy had a significantly higher prevalence of childhood anxiety. However, food allergies were not associated with symptoms of childhood depression or with symptoms of anxiety or depression among their parents.

Food allergies are increasingly common among children with recent estimates as high as eight percent in the US and five percent in Ireland. The results showed that among 80 paediatric patients ages 4-12 years (8 years old on average), 57 percent of children with a food allergy reported having symptoms of anxiety compared to 48 percent of children without a food allergy. Worryingly, approximately 48 percent of the children had symptoms of depression with or without a food allergy.

Dr Renee Goodwin, lead author and a public health researcher at the Ivy League university, says that money and social worries are a factor:

“Management of food allergy can be expensive both in terms of food shopping, meal preparation, and the cost of epinephrine auto-injectors, which expire annually. These demands could result in higher levels of anxiety for those with fewer financial resources and further heighten anxiety symptoms in children and their caregivers.”

food allergy anxiety children

Dr Goodwin also notes that food allergy is particularly linked to social anxiety and fear of rejection and humiliation:

“There are a number of possible explanations for the relationship found between food allergy diagnosis and increased social anxiety issues in this sample of paediatric patients.

Management of a potentially life-threatening condition may be anxiety provoking, and some children may experience increased social anxiety about being ‘different’ from other children depending on their age and how food allergy is managed.”

Dr Jonathan Feldman, a professor of psychology at Yeshiva University, points out a possible explanation for not finding a link between food allergy and depression in children.

“The sample was young, and the mean age of onset for depression is significantly later than anxiety. It would be worthwhile to examine these relationships among older adolescents and young adults with food allergy who are at the peak of risk for depression onset, especially because early anxiety is associated with increased risk for subsequent onset of depression.”

Dr Goodwin says the link is worthy of further investigation:

“With the high prevalence of food allergies today, education in schools remains a priority. Given the strong association between food allergy and social anxiety in children future investigations on the food allergy-mental health relationship are also warranted.”