Disclosing food allergy status in schools: health-related stigma among school children in Ontario
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In 2006, 3 years after the tragic death of 13-year-old Sabrina Shannon, the Province of Ontario (Canada) passed Sabrina's Law ushering in a new era of focus and concern for severe food allergic children at risk of anaphylaxis. Questions were raised at the time regarding the potential of doing more harm than good with the new legislation. This paper reports the experiences of health-related stigma among food allergic children at risk of anaphylaxis who were required to disclose their health status under this new legislation. In 2008, in-depth interviews were conducted with 20 children and youth and their parents in order to explore the experiences living with a severe food allergy. This particular study explores their experiences of felt and enacted stigma in the school setting as a result of the disclosure process. Interviews were tape recorded with permission and transcribed for subsequent thematic analysis using NVIVO, a qualitative analysis software package. Results indicate that participants were stigmatised as a result of protective school policies under the law, and that created tension between their physical safety and social well-being. Sabrina's Law also led to a cultural shift in awareness of food allergies that resulted in some participants normalising their health status, offering promising directions for the future.
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