Researchers at the University of Louisville and the Center for Courageous Kids in Scottsvile, both in Kentucky, noted a dearth of knowledge about the impact of online social networks as peer support for families of children with food allergies. They designed a study of a dedicated Facebook page to determine its acceptance.
Twenty families with 27 food allergic children (average age 7.3 years; 56% male, 93% white) were recruited from participants at a food allergy retreat. Baseline assessments included media/technology use and the Food Allergy Quality of Life Questionnaire (FAQLQ). The families were invited to a secure, private, moderated Facebook group page for the purpose of peer support. In addition, the families were invited to participate in four weeks of weekly interactive activities to encourage communication. Family user satisfaction and FAQLQ-PF were subsequently assessed.
The children had an average of 4.7 food allergies with the most common being peanut, tree nut, and milk. Seventy percent of parents logged on to an online social network at least once daily. Sixteen families with 21 children enrolled in the Facebook group. Eight families with 12 children participated in at least one activity or discussion. Seven families had multiple interactions with the Facebook group; 86% of the families stated they enjoyed the group and would participate again; and 71% stated it enhanced the effect of the food allergy retreat. However, there was no change in the food allergy quality of life after the intervention (P=0.6).
The researchers concluded that “an online social network to promote peer support had moderate participation rates but was well accepted.”