The psychosocial burden of living with food allergies

Being allergic to food affects children and adolescents in several different ways, both they and their parents report a poorer overall health-related quality of life and a significant impact on how everyday life works. A research group with researchers from Jönköping University (JU), Karolinska Institutet and the University of Manitoba, Canada, has in a new systematic review study looked more closely at how parents and children themselves experience what it is like.

Litet barn i barnstol som äter

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In the last two decades, we have seen an increase in various food allergies - a widespread health problem in Sweden and other western countries. About 20 percent of all children and young people have some form of allergy and eight percent are allergic to some form of food. Knowing how children and young people with food allergies feel is therefore a matter that affects a large number of individuals and their families.

The study consists of two different literature reviews, where the first shows how food allergies affect parents.

- Parents with children who have food allergies generally feel worse than parents without children with such allergies, writes Nina Veetnisha Gunnarsson, senior lecturer in social work and one of the researchers behind the study, in a blog post on JU's research blog Vertikals.

The parents who have children with more severe allergies also report more anxiety than those who have children with less severe allergies.

- It’s usually about so-called anaphylactic reactions, that can be fatal, and a concern that the child will ingest some food that he or she cannot tolerate. There is also a tension between the need to control the child's food intake and let the child live a normal life, writes Nina Veetnisha Gunnarsson further.

The second review article shows how allergies affect children and adolescents themselves.

- There is a clear impact on the quality of life, especially socially, emotionally, and physically, where the quality of life is stated to be worse among children and adolescents with food allergies than in children and adolescents without food allergies, writes Nina Veetnisha Gunnarsson.

Another aspect that the study addresses is that parents assess their children's quality of life and mental health as worse than what the children and adolescents themselves state.

- Even though there were only a few studies where both the children themselves and the parents reported on the quality of life and the mental health of the child, it is something that should be reflected on, writes Nina Veetnisha Gunnarsson.

It is a clear that there is a negative psychosocial impac, and according to the researchers it’s not particularly surprising considering how important food is for us humans, both physiologically and culturally.

According to the researchers, however, there is still a lot to do, for example, it needs to be investigated further whether it is precisely the food allergy that affects mental health or whether it is related to the generally increasingly reported mental illness among children and adolescents.

Read the entire blog post on Vertikals (in Swedish)