Recent research from the United Kingdom suggests that the common practice of withholding peanuts from children under 3-years-old should discontinued. Early exposure to peanuts may reduce the likelihood that a child will develop an allergy. The study is called LEAP, or Learning Early About Peanuts.
“This is a huge paradigm shift if how we feed our newborns,” said U of L’s Dr. Robert Lee, an immunologist and allergist. He heard the news at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology conference in Houston.
The LEAP study concluded if one gives an infant peanuts early in life, the child’s chances of developing a peanut allergy decrease by about 80 percent.
After a spike in reported peanut allergies in 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics told parents they should avoid feeding children foods with peanut butter until ages three or four. Over the past 10 years, however, peanut allergies have doubled. The amount of people affected increased from 1.4 to 3 percent of the population.
According to Lee, this evidence caused the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology to retract its previous statement about avoiding peanuts, but the Academy did not know where to turn or what advice to give parents.
The developments in peanut allergy science occurred when doctors saw a major difference between youth in Israel and the UK. There was a ten-fold difference in reported peanut allergies between Jews in the United Kingdom and Jews in Israel.
After examining the differences between the two cultures, researchers noticed Israeli babies are fed Bamba, a peanut-based baby food. The average baby in the United Kingdom consumes zero grams of peanuts in a week.
The LEAP study took four-month-olds at a high risk for peanut allergies, based on egg-allergy or eczema cases, and feed them peanuts or peanut based products.
The results, as Lee puts it, were “ground-breaking.”
The control group, who did not receive any peanuts, developed an allergy 13 percent of the time. Babies that received peanut butter only developed an allergy at a rate of 1.9 percent.
Infants who had a slight peanut allergy before the study developed an allergy at a rate of 10.6 percent, whereas and the peanut-avoiders developed an allergy at a 35 percent rate.
One issue Lee said the study raised was how parents should feed their infants with severe peanut allergies in the first four months of infancy. There were a large number of children who were rejected from the study because their allergy was already too severe. Dr. Lee stated the need for more research regarding these children.
Lee stated that medical associations will soon create guidelines for parents based off the LEAP study.
Dr. Lee stressed, “We can’t be cavalier on giving children peanut butter.” He advises parents to continue to have children tested for allergies, especially if they have eczema, egg allergies or a family history of peanut allergies.