Emotional and behavioral problems in adolescents and young adults with food allergy

Allergy. 2016 Apr;71(4):532-40. doi: 10.1111/all.12829. Epub 2016 Jan 19.


Background: Adolescents with food allergy have poorer psychosocial outcomes compared with their nonallergic counterparts; however, few studies have prospectively examined the mental health of adolescents and young adults in this vulnerable population. Our objectives were to estimate the prevalence of emotional and behavioral problems in an epidemiological sample of adolescents and young adults with food allergy; determine whether food allergy is associated with adolescent and maternal reports of such problems; and examine the patterns of change in emotional and behavioral problems from adolescence to young adulthood among individuals with and without food allergy.

Methods: Data came from 1303 participants at 14 and 21 years of age in the Mater University Study of Pregnancy. Emotional and behavioral problems were measured using self- and maternal-reported symptoms of depression, anxiety, attention/deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder, and conduct disorder.

Results: Maternal, but not self-reports suggested that emotional and behavioral problems were higher among adolescents with food allergy. Food allergy was associated with increased odds of elevated levels of maternal-reported symptoms of depression [OR = 4.50 (1.83, 11.07)], anxiety [OR = 2.68 (1.12, 6.44)], and ADHD [OR = 3.14 (1.07, 9.19)] in adolescence. Food allergy was also associated with depressive symptoms that persisted from adolescence to young adulthood [OR = 2.05 (1.04, 4.03)].

Conclusions: Emotional and behavioral problems, particularly symptoms of depression, anxiety, and ADHD, are common among adolescents with food allergy in the general population and, in the case of elevated levels of depressive symptoms, persist into young adulthood. Healthcare professionals should seek adolescent and parental perspectives when assessing emotional and behavioral problems and monitor mental health during the transition to adulthood.

Keywords: adolescence; behavior; food allergy; mental health; young adulthood.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Emotions*
  • Family
  • Female
  • Food Hypersensitivity / epidemiology*
  • Food Hypersensitivity / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Problem Behavior*
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Young Adult