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Peanut Allergies Lead To Bullying In Schools, Newfoundland Doctor Says (VIDEO)

10/17/2014 07:00 EDT | Updated 10/18/2014 09:59 EDT

When a Newfoundland school district reinforced a ban on peanut butter substitutes earlier this month, the head of a company that produces them called it bullying.

But as one doctor in Deer Lake, N.L. tells it, students are using those very products to harass kids with serious nut allergies.

Pediatrician Dr. Susan Russell cheered a move by the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District to ban peanut butter substitutes such as Wowbutter in schools that already have nut-free policies, The Western Star reported.

She said students have smeared Wowbutter on allergy sufferers or their belongings, or even pressured them into eating it. One student, she recalls, was chased down a corridor by someone who said they were holding a peanut butter sandwich. The bullied student now doesn't want to go back to school.

"The risk is being bullied causes significant psychological harm, but, in this case, there is a real physical threat," Russell told the newspaper.

Allergy sufferers who come into contact with peanuts can experience anaphylaxis, which is characterized by narrowing airways, throat swelling, a drop in blood pressure or losing consciousness, according to the Mayo Clinic.

It can even be life-threatening; Dr. Richard Lockey, an allergist with the University of South Florida, said sufferers can die from anaphylaxis in minutes, though it's rarely been reported to happen days or weeks after the initial event.

In an interview with CBC News, Russell said as many as half of kids with food allergies have been bullied, and that 80 per cent of the harassment happens in school.

Beatrice Povolo, marketing director for Anaphylaxis Canada, last year told CTV News the problem is growing.

"The results we have seen in some surveys that we have done is 30 per cent of parents have reported that their child has experienced some form of bullying," she told the network. "This is concerning, because this seems to be more prevalent than previously known."

A New York Times article published last year noted that in half of all cases of allergy bullying, the parents were not aware of the situation.

Scott Mahon, president of Wowbutter Foods, was disappointed earlier this month when the school district banned its products from certain classrooms, saying that it would "make life difficult" for certain families.

"We're supposed to be teaching our kids to accept and embrace and acknowledge the needs and uniqueness of others," he told CBC News. "Now the school is saying, 'no, we understand this is a safe product, but we don't want to take the time to educate and deal with it."

But Jeff Thompson, the school district's associate director of education (programs), said it knows that Wowbutter isn't dangerous, but added that it can be difficult for schools to monitor.

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