Researchers Find Link Between Food Allergies and Childhood Anxiety

Summary: A new study reveals a link between a food allergy diagnosis and social anxiety in children of low socioeconomic status. The study found 57% of children with food allergies report anxiety symptoms. Researchers suggest food allergies are linked to elevated social anxiety, fear of social rejection and also humiliation in children.

Source: Columbia University.

Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and Albert Einstein College of Medicine studied the link between food allergy and childhood anxiety and depression among a sample of predominantly low socioeconomic status minority children. The results showed that children with a food allergy had a significantly higher prevalence of childhood anxiety. Food allergies were not associated with symptoms of childhood depression or with symptoms of anxiety or depression among their caregivers. The results are published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

Food allergies are increasingly common among youth in the U.S. with recent estimates as high as 8 percent. Until nowlittle was known about the prevalence of food allergy in low socioeconomic ethnic minority populations.

The researchers studied 80 pediatric patients ages 4-12 years, 8 years old on average, with and without food allergy and their caregivers from urban pediatric outpatient clinics in the Bronx, New York. They controlled for an asthma diagnosis in the children, as anxiety and mood disorders are more prevalent among youth with asthma and especially more common in low socioeconomic minority children.

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

“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, PhD, 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.”

The results suggest that food allergy is particularly linked to elevated social anxiety and fear of social rejection and humiliation. “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.”

Image shows a child looking at peanuts.

The researchers also point out a possible explanation for not finding a link between food allergy and depression in children. The sample was young, and the mean age of onset for 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 at Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, Yeshiva University and Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

“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 relationship are also warranted in clinical, school, and community-based settings which could aid in the development of interventions.”

ABOUT THIS NEUROSCIENCE RESEARCH ARTICLE

Co-authors: Sandra Rodgin, Rachel Goldman, and Jonathan Feldman, Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, Yeshiva University; Juliana Rodriguez, Department of Pediatrics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Gabriele deVos and Denise Serebrisky, Jacobi Medical Center, Bronx, NY. The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

NeuroscienceNews would like to thank Stephanie Berger for submitting this article for inclusion.

Source: Stephanie Berger – Columbia University
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to Columbia University.
Original Research: Abstract for “Food Allergy and Anxiety and Depression among Ethnic Minority Children and Their Caregivers” by Renee D. Goodwin, PhD, MPH, Sandra Rodgin, MA, Rachel Goldman, MA, Juliana Rodriguez, MD, Gabriele deVos, MD, Denise Serebrisky, MD, and Jonathan M. Feldman, PhD in Journal of Pediatrics. Published online June 5 2017 doi:10.1016/j.jpeds.2017.04.055

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Columbia University “Researchers Find Link Between Food Allergies and Childhood Anxiety.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 30 June 2017.
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Abstract

Food Allergy and Anxiety and Depression among Ethnic Minority Children and Their Caregivers

Objective

To investigate the relationship between food allergy and symptoms of anxiety and depression among ethnic minority, low socioeconomic status (SES) children and their caregivers.

Study design

Pediatric patients ages 4-12 years with and without food allergy and their caregivers were recruited from urban pediatric outpatient clinics. Statistical analyses were used to examine the prevalence of symptoms of anxiety and depression among patients and their caregivers with and without food allergy, adjusting for asthma.

Results

Eighty patients ranging from ages 4 to 12 years, with a mean age of 8.1 years, and their caregivers participated in the study. Food allergy was associated with significantly higher t scores on the Multidimensional Anxiety Scale for Children (MASC) Total (P = .007), MASC Humiliation Rejection, (P = .02) and MASC Social Anxiety (P = .02) among pediatric patients, adjusting for asthma. Food allergy was not associated with child depression symptoms, nor was there a significant difference in anxiety or depression symptoms among caregivers of patients with and without food allergy.

Conclusions

Food allergy appears to be associated with increased symptoms of social anxiety and higher levels of anxiety overall, but not depression, in ethnic minority children of lower socioeconomic status. This finding was not due to confounding by asthma. Food allergy was not associated with higher levels of depression or anxiety symptoms among caregivers of pediatric patients with food allergy. Future studies should investigate potential pathways between food allergy and anxiety that may be unique to children in underserved populations, and develop interventions to reduce anxiety in children with food allergy.

“Food Allergy and Anxiety and Depression among Ethnic Minority Children and Their Caregivers” by Renee D. Goodwin, PhD, MPH, Sandra Rodgin, MA, Rachel Goldman, MA, Juliana Rodriguez, MD, Gabriele deVos, MD, Denise Serebrisky, MD, and Jonathan M. Feldman, PhD in Journal of Pediatrics. Published online June 5 2017 doi:10.1016/j.jpeds.2017.04.055

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