Food allergies can be dangerous and are a key concern for many families. Whether a news story about EpiPen prices or debates in schools about how to keep kids safe and healthy in the lunchroom, food allergies are a common topic of discussion. The science and clinical recommendations about preventing and treating allergies is also changing rapidly. But one recent change drew a lot of attention.
You may have heard in the past several months that doctors now recommend giving peanut butter to babies in the first year of life. And you may have thought that this seems like a big change from previous recommendations. You are right! It is a BIG change. And here is why:
In 2015, researchers in England published a study in the New England Journal of Medicine called the LEAP study. LEAP stands for Learning Early About Peanut. In this study, researchers enrolled more than 600 babies who were at “high risk” for food allergies and randomized them to get either peanut butter three times a week, or no peanut butter at all for the first five years of life. They considered the babies to be “high risk” if they had severe eczema (allergic skin rash), or if they had already had an allergic reaction to eggs. At the end of the five year study, the group that ate the peanut butter three times a week for the five years of the study were 86% LESS likely to be allergic to peanuts than the group that avoided peanut.
Since then, there have been several other studies that also suggest that it may be better to introduce “allergenic” foods early. “Allergenic” foods include eggs, milk, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts and seafood.
Because of these studies, the American Academy of Pediatrics has endorsed new guidelines for introducing peanut butter and other allergenic foods early. For some babies this must be done in the pediatrician’s office or pediatric allergist’s office, and for other babies it can be done at home.
Talk to your pediatrician about how to safely introduce allergenic foods to your child.
Amy P. Stallings, MD is an assistant professor of pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at Duke University in Durham, NC.
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