Bullying takes many forms, but when it involves a food that triggers severe allergies, it could be potentially deadly.
Once, when Brandon Williams, a 16-year-old from Kentucky, was on a trip with his bowling team, his teammate decided to eat some food from McDonald's on Williams' bed. One item had so much mayonnaise that it dripped onto Williams' bed and jacket. But for Williams, who was diagnosed with a life-threatening egg allergy when he was one, it was a potentially dangerous situation. "I told the person not to eat on my bed," Williams recalls. His teammate just smiled at him, then he shoved the mayonnaise-laden sandwich in Williams' face.
It's always the same. People wave food near Williams that they know he can't eat. They see him and yell, "Hey let's feed this guy egg." It's not original, all the jokes are the same kind of thing, Williams says, yet the bullying carries an undercurrent of risk. "It wouldn't be funny to break someone's arm to send them to the hospital," Williams says. "Why would it be funny to send someone to the hospital for an allergy?"
One 2014 study found that as many as 32 percent of children with food allergies have been bullied at least once. Roughly a third of bullied children were bullied more than twice a month, according to the study in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
"Food allergy bullying was something we were hearing more about," says Rachel Annunziato, associate professor of psychology at Fordham and one of the study's authors. They did the study to find out if it was a real phenomenon and discovered that far more children experienced it than they expected. It didn't matter how serious the allergy was or whether the kids were allergic to peanuts or wheat or shellfish. As Brandon's mother Kandice Williams put it, "The nature of humanity is, I guess, to find cracks and attack there."