Online community reveals psychosocial concerns of teens with food allergies

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According to a study published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

“This study was prompted by several years of informal observations of the psychosocial difficulties faced by adolescents with food allergies, but research and interventions tend to focus almost exclusively on young children and their caregivers,” Melissa L. Engel, MY, a doctoral student in Emory University’s psychology department, Healio told Healio.


Data are from Engel MA, et al. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2022;doi:10.1016.j.anai.2022.04.010.

Melissa L. Engel

“Research from other pediatric populations suggests that adolescence can be a particularly challenging time for young people with health challenges, especially as responsibilities for self-management shift from parent to child,” continued Engel.

Between January and September 2021, researchers examined enrollment responses to Food Allergy Research and Education’s Teen Talks online video social program for young people aged 11 to 22 with food allergies. Engel leads these free one-hour lectures each month.

“Food is at the heart of much of adolescent social life, which naturally creates barriers for people with food allergies, whether in the context of browsing restaurants with friends, shopping for food, eating food, or eating out. ‘kissing a potential romantic partner or working for a first job,’ Engel said.

During the registration process, participants are asked, “What do you hope to gain from Teen Talks?” If you have specific activities you would like to see covered, please include them here,” and the researchers analyzed responses from 461 participants.

Enrollees were on average 15 years old (standard deviation [SD], 2.58). Over 85% had allergies to two or more categories, including each of the top nine allergens, fruits, vegetables, and other foods (median, 3.47; SD, 2).

Based on these responses, the researchers identified six psychosocial needs:

  • connecting with other teens with food allergies (39.7%);
  • sharing of experiences (32.1%);
  • learning to navigate social situations such as dates, restaurants and school (27.55%);
  • coping with emotional challenges such as anxiety, bullying or guilt (11.93%);
  • increase knowledge about food allergies (11.5%); and
  • gain in confidence, autonomy and communication (8.03%).

The researchers also counted 19 responses which they categorized as “other” and another 99 as “no response”. These psychosocial needs did not differ according to the age of the registrants or the number of declared allergens.

“We thematically analyzed their responses to what they hoped to gain from this program, which is marketed as a way to connect with other teens with food allergies, i.e. purely social in nature” , Engel said. “In other words, the teens weren’t asked about their struggles, just what they hoped to get out of this online social program.”

Engel particularly qualified the proportion of registrants who wanted to discuss navigating common teenage social situations that can pose challenges for people with food allergies – such as eating out, hanging out with friends and partying – “striking,” adding that food allergy anxiety has traditionally been conceptualized as fear of anaphylaxis or food phobia.

“However, these results suggest that adolescents may also experience social anxiety related to their food allergies. In other words, adolescents may fear negative social evaluation or judgment from others because of their food allergies. C This is a critical direction that we hope to explore in future research,” Engel said.

For example, one participant said they felt like the “ugly duckling,” while others said they had felt guilty or ashamed for making others feel bad because they had to hold on. account of their food allergy precautions.

Additionally, many enrollees said they felt lonely in their day-to-day struggles with food allergies and would like to develop friendships with a community of peers, which the researchers found unsurprising among participants. a social program.

As the prevalence of food allergies increases, Engel continued, it’s critical to understand the unique psychosocial challenges these teens face.

“Messages from doctors are often aimed at preventing young people from having serious allergic reactions. While protecting physical health is paramount, it is imperative that physicians have the resources to meet the complex psychosocial needs of adolescents with food allergies,” Engel said.

“Doctors may consider asking teens what their biggest food allergy concerns are and providing appropriate mental health referrals when needed. Physicians can also encourage the development of programs for adolescent patients to connect and share their experiences,” Engel said.

Few initiatives currently target adolescents, the researchers said. New adolescent-only social programs, communication-focused videos, role-playing, virtual communities, and simply asking adolescents questions about their challenges could support and empower these patients, the researchers said.

“The next step in this research is to systematically investigate and build on our psychosocial difficulties found in more demographically representative and generalizable samples. We view our qualitative findings as new and preliminary, and we would like to examine the extent they are confirmed in a national sample,” Engel said.

Researchers will soon evaluate these findings in a nationally representative longitudinal study of young people with food allergies, Engel continued.

“To date, our measures of psychosocial functioning have primarily been parent-reported. As young people move through adolescence and early adulthood, we will be able to examine their own reports of various psychosocial difficulties that may be unique to this developmental period,” she said.

Reference:

For more information:

Melissa L. Engel, MA, can be contacted at [email protected]

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