(Reuters Health) – Mothers of children with food allergies look to dieticians for advice on nutrition, but also for emotional support as they try to protect their kids and give them a normal life, say UK researchers.
“From clinical practice I know that mothers/parents do not just want the dietary advice we give, but also the emotional support and that 'person on my side', but I had no study that I could refer to,” Carina Venter told Reuters Health in an email.
“A dietitian can help parents with advice on food avoidance, information on suitable foods, lifestyle advice, bringing normality into their lives and provide some emotional support,” said Venter, a dietitian and researcher at the University of Portsmouth, and senior author of the study.
It’s well known that dietitians can provide parents with elimination diets and nutritional advice, Venter and her coauthors write in Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. But the study team wanted to know what other types of information parents need from a consultation.
They enrolled 17 mothers of 19 children with food allergies into focus groups. Each mother had consulted with a dietitian at least once before the study.
Based on the discussions, the study team identified six major themes that came up repeatedly. The mothers wanted to protect their kids and become food allergy experts in order to do so. These themes were most important after the child’s allergy was first detected.
Later on, the mothers wanted to learn more about promoting a normal, independent lifestyle for their kids.
The mothers also said they wanted someone to be an advocate in helping to deal with healthcare providers, child caregivers and others who may be less sensitive to the day-to-day difficulties that come with the child’s condition. The mothers also wanted emotional support as they waged those battles.
“I think for me the main finding from our results was the varied needs and range of needs that parents have in dealing with food allergies in their child, particularly the need regarding emotional support,” Venter said. “That highlights the fact that dietitians need training to develop these skills or that the role of a psychologist in the Allergy Clinic should not be overlooked.”
Vandana Sheth, a Torrance, California-based registered dietician and spokesperson for the Academy Of Nutrition and Dietetics, said that mothers of kids with food allergies can be quite overwhelmed and scared.
“Registered dietitian nutritionists who specialize in food allergies are uniquely qualified in helping them identify practical ways to meet their child's nutritional needs without significantly more work,” Sheth told Reuters Health in an email.
Sheth, who was not involved in the UK study, said that food allergy nutrition education needs to be individualized.
“Once food allergens have been identified through testing and food history, dietitians can help families identify key substitutions for foods to be avoided” she said.
Dietitians can also help parents with grocery store shopping tips, reading food labels, planning for snacks and meals at school, ideas for celebrations, dining out, strategies to help the child thrive and participate in all activities while being safe, Sheth added.
“Dietitians can also guide role play situations so that the child knows how to respond in different social situations around food,” she said.
Sheth said that parents in the U.S. can go to the Academy website eatright.org and use the “find a dietitian” tab to find a dietitian near where they live.
“However, the key is to find someone who is knowledgeable and experienced in working with food allergies,” she said. “Before scheduling a session, feel free to ask them questions about their specific background and experience in the field.”
Sheth said parents could also ask their pediatric allergists if they work with a dietitian.
“Living with food allergies can be quite overwhelming,” she said. “However, with education, and support you can be in control and enjoy life to the fullest.”