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Food Allergies Linked to Childhood Anxiety in Recent Study

Food Allergies Linked to Childhood Anxiety in Recent Study

What do allergies and anxiety have in common?
According to a recent study, quite a lot.

It turns out there may be a link between food allergies and childhood anxiety.

Researchers studied the link between food allergies, childhood, and depression. The results of the study found that children with food allergies had a higher prevalence of anxiety.

These allergies were not associated with childhood depression or with symptoms of anxiety of depression among caregivers.  The study only found a connection between allergies and childhood anxiety.

Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology and Albert Einstein College of Medicine conducted the study. The results are published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

Food allergies are incredibly common among youth in the United States. Recent estimates conclude the number of children with a food allergy is as high as 8 percent. Until this study, little was understood about the prevalence of food allergies in low socioeconomic, ethnic minority populations.

Families in low socioeconomic areas are more likely to struggle with accommodating the needs of children with allergies. Children with allergies require specific care, and often this results in a financial strain.

“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,” said Renee Goodwin, Ph.D., in the Department of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health and lead author. “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.”

Researchers studied 80 pediatric patients’ ages 4-12 years, eight years old on average.  They controlled for asthma diagnosis in children, as it is known that children with asthma struggle with mood disorder and anxiety. Asthma is common in low socioeconomic minority children.

Among the children with a food allergy:

  • 57 percent reported having symptoms of anxiety compared
  • 48 percent of children without a food allergy
  • Approximately 48 percent of the children had symptoms of depression with or without a food allergy.

The results suggest that food allergies are linked to elevating social anxiety and fear of social rejection and humiliation. This makes sense as having a food allergy will prevent a child from participating in certain activities and eating certain foods.  For example, a child with a severe peanut allergy would not be able to go to places where peanuts are prevalent.

“There are a number of possible explanations for the relationship found between food allergy diagnosis and increased social anxiety issues in this sample of pediatric patients,” noted Dr. Goodwin. “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 by adults in a particular setting.”

Researchers also explained why they believe there was not a link between food allergy and depression and children. Because the participants were so young, it is likely they would not have symptoms of depression so early. The mean onset of 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,” said Jonathan Feldman, PhD, professor of Psychology at Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, Yeshiva University.

Goodwin continued to explain why this study is so important.

“With the high prevalence of food allergies today, education in schools remains a priority,” said Dr. Goodwin. “Given the strong association between food allergy and social anxiety in children future investigations on the food allergy-mental health relationships is also warranted in clinical, school, and community-based settings which could aid in the development of interventions.”

Overall, this study is important for a variety of reasons. Anxiety is a debilitating condition that only progresses. It is important young children are treated for this condition. If a food allergy is to blame, this needs to be addressed. If you are struggling with mental illness or addiction, please call now. Do not wait.

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