Food allergy bullying in schools is a real thing

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- There's a new type of bullying parents need to know about.

It's not about the way a youngster looks or acts; it's all about what he or she can and cannot eat.

Almost a third of all kids with severe allergies have been or could be a victim of food allergy bullying.

"You can't help if you have an allergy, but you should be understanding of someone that does because it could mean life or death."

Erika Battle was shocked something called "food allergy bullying" even exists.

Her 5-year old daughter Kaidence is one of many children suffering food allergies who attend Belle Forest Community School in Hickory Hill.

"I'm allergic to nuts and seafood," said Kaidence Battle.

"The doctor told me I could slowly introduce different items to her to see how she reacted to those. I introduced two cashews to her, and she walked away. I checked on her, and her face had swollen, and her mouth was closing shut," said Erika Battle, Kaidence's mom.

Kaidence received treatment in time.

But what happens when students and or parents don't know about existing allergies?

It's a full-time job for teachers to make sure students don't come in contact with foods they are allergic to either by accident or on purpose through a disturbing trend called "food allergy bullying."

"I send home a note just reminding parents that I do have students with specific allergies. And that I don't need any food entering my classroom that may be harmful to my students," said Amber Strong, a Belle Forest, kindergarten teacher.

There are lots of precautions in place.

Yellow wristbands, warnings posted on classroom doors, and making sure students have access to an Epipen during a reaction are all steps already in place to keep kids safe.

While Shelby County Schools reports no specific cases of "food allergy bullying," there have enough cases nationwide to spark an awareness campaign.

The group Food Allergy Research and Education estimated one out of three children with severe allergies have been or will be victims of this type of bullying.

"It does surprise me, and it's kind of scary."

Memphis Doctor Steve Cole is an allergy and immunology specialist who said food allergies are nothing to joke about.

"Most cases of food allergy come about by eating it, by ingesting the particular food. But you can be sensitive enough that touching your skin may cause a reaction. Or even some folks are sensitive enough just breathing in the vapors," said Dr. Cole.

Doctor Cole said peanut allergies are most common in young patients like Maxwell Doyle.

We met the 7-year old during a recent checkup and found he knows what to avoid.

"So, you can't have peanut butter and jelly?" asked WREG

"I don't eat peanut butter," said Maxwell.

"At all? asked WREG

"At all. I don't eat peanut butter at all. I can eat jelly though but not peanut butter," said Maxwell.

Yekela Doyle said education is key to controlling allergies in youngsters and making sure they don't become the target of a joke or something much worse.

"Because it's not fun seeing a little child scratch and break out in hives and stuff like that," said Yekela Doyle, Maxwell's mom.

Even though food allergy bullying has not been a problem here,  doctors recommend teaching children about the dangers of food allergies to stop bullying before it starts.

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