College students with food allergy: From hypervigilance to disclosure fatigue

Published:December 06, 2022DOI:


      Purpose: The purpose of this study was to explore the impact of food allergy (FA) on the daily lives of young adults who recently transitioned to attending college away from home. Design and Methods: We conducted in-depth qualitative interviews using a grounded theory approach to data collection, data analysis, and theory development. For recruitment, we posted a flier on a FA Facebook group and reposted approximately monthly for one year. We completed and recorded 16 interviews that ranged in duration from 30 to 90 min. The interviews were transcribed, coded, and analyzed with the intention of developing mid-range theory. Results: Several interrelated themes were identified during the analytical process, including hypervigilance, misunderstood risk, and stigma management. Notably, a series of cascading effects eventually lead to what we call “disclosure fatigue,” where students with FA tire of talking about their invisible disability with people who misunderstand it, and they eventually develop strategies to avoid conversations. The consequences include a narrowing of social networks and activities and even risky food behaviors. Conclusions: Research is needed in other settings, for other conditions, to consider and ameliorate the negative health consequences associated with disclosure fatigue. Practice Implications: In addition to focusing on physical aspects of FA, including avoiding exposure, healthcare practitioners in pediatric settings should emphasize social aspects of FA that gain influence during the transition out of high school and away from home. Disclosure fatigue provides one explanation for why individuals with FA may choose to ignore best practices and engage in risky food behaviors.


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