Approximately six million children in the U.S. suffer from one or multiple food allergies, with peanuts being the most common—and deadliest—allergen (milk is second and shellfish is third*). As a result, it was recommended for many years by pediatricians and allergy specialists alike that babies and small children avoid all contact with peanuts. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) even went so far as to advise pregnant women to stop eating peanuts during pregnancy and for all parents to keep peanuts off the plates of children starting solids.
So, what changed?
In the past 10 years, two major studies came out that turned the tables on the rules regarding peanut consumption. The first study found that the rates for developing an allergy to peanuts was roughly 10 times lower for children who ate peanuts from an early age compared to children who avoided them.
The second study was published in 2015, and it discovered that children who were introduced to peanuts early on had up to an 80 percent lower risk of developing the allergy over those that were not.
Now, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has released new guidelines for introducing babies to peanuts by placing a powder or extract in their food before six months of age.
What are the new guidelines?
It should be noted that all guidelines recommend that parents consult a physician prior to exposing their children to peanuts and that whole peanuts should never be given as they pose a choking hazard.
The guidelines breakdown as follows:
Children with a severe allergy to eggs, have severe eczema or both (conditions that increase the risk of developing an allergy to peanuts) should have peanuts introduced between four and six months of age.
Children with mild to moderate eczema may have food containing peanuts around six months of age if peanuts are a regular part of the family’s diet.
Children without an eczema or egg allergy may be introduced to peanuts at any time.
What does this mean for the future?
The hope for these new guidelines is preventing a full-fledged allergy from truly forming by training the immune system to see peanut proteins as friends, not foes.
If there is widespread execution, there is great potential to drastically decrease the number of children who develop this allergy. Maybe someday, we can lift the ban on peanut products in schools across the country. It might also save millions of dollars in healthcare costs for treating children with allergic reactions, ultimately putting parents’ minds at ease.
*American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. Allergy Statistics. http://www.aaaai.org/about-the-aaaai/newsroom/allergy-statistics.aspx. (Retrieved January 19 2017)