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Do Food Allergies Cause Social Isolation?

In our work providing services for families dealing with food allergies, we often hear from children that they experience social isolation. One young client told us that she eats lunch every day at school at a special allergy table and is only allowed to choose two friends to sit with her. This makes it hard to make new friends or get closer to existing friends.

A small study conducted by professors at the University of Waterloo revealed that allergies can have significant social implications for children. The kids reported sitting separately at school lunch, not being invited to birthday parties and being treated as an outsider.

Food Allergies Social Isolation

We asked our Facebook community about food allergies and social isolation and these are some of the responses we got:

  • My daughter wants to be a “ normal “ kid. It causes anxiety and depression.
  • Eating is a big social activity and allergies limit that so much.
  • Her best friend had an ice cream party and she couldn't go. Even a simple going out for dinner is fraught with anxiety.
  • Without a doubt my son has missed out on numerous outings and trips. Plus watched kids eat cupcakes and cake, and pizza etc. at every bday party while he could not. It deeply affects their way of life. And now that he will be dating, how can he take a girl out to dinner!?!?
  • Every birthday party, pizza party, ice cream social where the other kids are having fun and bonding, your child is necessarily othered.
  • Some parents might be wary of having children who have severe food allergies in their house out of fear they might have a reaction.
  • My son was allergic to dairy, so I had to stay with him at parties when he was 4, and bring home made pizza for him so that he wouldn't feel left out.

We recently accompanied a teen on a school trip. We prepared a fully allergy-safe meal for him, but the hotel’s menu was extremely heavy on sesame. Our client became anxious about eating in the dining room and chose to eat in a separate room. His friends noticed that he wasn’t with them and went looking for him. When they saw him eating alone, they chose to forgo their own meals to sit with him while he ate! At the next meal, one kid stayed with our client while his friends ate quickly and then came to join him.

But this is the exception rather than the rule, and schools should certainly do more to ensure that kids with allergies are socially integrated.

In Israel, there is a law that if one child in the school has a life-threatening food allergy, the allergen is not allowed to be brought into school. In theory, this creates an allergy-free environment and does away with isolation during meals and snack times. In practice, there is a lack of awareness in some schools and the policy isn’t being practiced across the board yet, but it’s a great start and a positive direction.

Canada has passed a law which “requires school boards to have all principals implement anaphylaxis plans that include: strategies to reduce exposure to allergens, procedures to communicate to parents, students and employees about life-threatening allergies, and regular training on dealing with life-threatening allergies for teachers and staff.”

While this law (called Sabrina’s Law, after a girl who died from a reaction to dairy fries she had been told were dairy-free) is a positive development, it doesn’t properly address the issue of social isolation.

In the United States, there aren’t any laws regarding bringing allergens to school. The principal can ask parents to voluntarily refrain from sending these foods, but he or she may worry about backlash and be afraid to make the request. And even once the request is made, not all parents will be careful about what they send with their child. School staff is constantly worried about the allergic child being in danger, thus the isolated lunch tables.

Legislation that requires schools to keep out any allergen which can threaten the life of one its students is good for the school and for the student. We hope that this becomes the law in the United States sooner rather than later.

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What Our Clients Say

Meticulous in their preparations

During our recent visit to Israel, we really struggled to find food for our son who has anaphylactic level allergies to egg and sesame. We approached both restaurants and hotels and were told they were unable or unwilling to take responsibility for preparing his food.

 After learning about Dr. Eliana on-line, we contacted her in the hopes that she could provide a ‘normal’ restaurant experience for our family.

 Both she and Shani were meticulous in their preparations with the restaurants to ensure that our son had a wonderful and safe experience.

 We truly appreciate their efforts to take care of our son, and to provide us with a lovely vacation experience.

T.M., Chicago, USA

Comfortable, calm, and at ease

We want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the amazing gift you have given us over this Pesach- the gift of having you with us!!!!

We have NEVER felt more comfortable, calm, and at ease than we did these past 10 days. Your warmth, professionalism, kindness, and care shown through in all that you did.

My children are so grateful that they were able to be with you this Pesach. You made sure that they were so well looked after and they felt so at ease and comfortable with you! You were so amazing and approachable to them! And they LOVED all the food you so amazingly prepared (supervised allergy-free food preparation, managed menus) for them!

It’s very difficult for us to trust people when it comes to our kids and allergies. You magically were able to take away ALL of our anxieties, and nervousness (and we don’t give that away so easily!!)

We can never fully thank you enough. We truly feel that you instantly became part of our family and we look forward to G-d willing being able to be with you and plan amazing trips with you many many many more times!!!! 

CO, Canada
April 2016

Very Helpful

Thank you and may Hashem bless you for the work you do. My son Jacob said your allergy card has been very helpful. I am so grateful- beyond words.

Yasher Koach!
L.R., NY, NY

Delicious and Safe

Thank you for delivering our allergy free baked goods to our hotel.  We just tasted the focaccia and it was delicious!

All the best,

S.C., New Jersey

Thank You

We can't thank you enough for assembling this top-notch team of specialists to work with our daughter while she is in Israel.

T.G., Philadelphia, PA

The Allergy Card was Extremely Helpful

"Food Allergy Concierge assisted us with a very helpful, detailed customized allergy card in Hebrew.  The Allergy card was extremely helpful for multiple allergies and allowed us to eat safely in several eateries and hotels. Highly recommended.”

G.A. Illinois USA

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