Mothers of Children With Food Allergies Want Dietitian Help

Marcia Frellick

December 19, 2014

Mothers managing the diets of children with food allergies say the role of dietary consultants should extend to emotional support and advocacy on parents' behalf with school officials and other care providers.

Heather MacKenzie, PhD, from the Graduate School, University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom, and colleagues conducted focus groups with 17 mothers (three groups of four to seven members each) who attended an allergy center for dietary advice for their food-allergic child. All had at least one consultation with a dietitian about their child's food allergy.

The researchers asked participants about their dietary advice needs and explored them using thematic analysis. They published their results in the January 2015 issue of the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

The authors write that recently published guidelines from the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe, and the World Allergy Organization highlight the difficulty in eliminating certain foods and the potential risk to nutritional status and quality of life. They also note that few in the United Kingdom have access to an allergy-specialist dietitian, which suggests more training for specialists is needed.

Emotional Support Needed

In addition to medical support, mothers in the focus groups made it clear that they valued emotional support from dietitians who can understand the difficulties in managing an allergic child's diet. They also valued dietitians' role as an advocate and go-between with a child's school or physician.

"As the mothers describe, coping with a child's food allergy can be emotionally demanding, particularly early after diagnosis. Therefore, it may be that there is a need for dietitians to receive training on how to provide appropriate emotional support or for psychologists to be part of allergy clinics," the authors write.

The results suggest mothers value the following actions from dietary consultants or allergy clinics:

  • provide food advice as soon as possible after diagnosis and review it at milestones such as change of school or adolescence;

  • supplement consultations with written information such as recipes, lists of food to avoid, and alternative allergen names;

  • provide checklists to help parents plan for trips to restaurants or birthday parties;

  • increase training and education for dietitians and families; and

  • consider providing email or on-call advice for questions between appointments.

Although the researchers asked both parents to participate in the study, only mothers consented. The authors say that although mothers tend to take more responsibility for managing their child's food allergy, it is possible that fathers would list different needs for dietary specialists.

The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Annals Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2015;114:23-29. Full text

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