The New England Journal of Medicine has a new study that suggests the need to rethink whether to feed peanuts to babies.
As the Wall Street Journal explains, peanut allergies can be life-threatening and they are increasing among the population.
Dr. Gideon Lack and his colleagues randomly assigned infants to be fed peanuts (really, peanut butter) until they were five years old. The children fed peanuts had far fewer peanut allergies than those who were not exposed to peanuts.
Of the more than 500 infants who showed no signs of peanut allergies at the start of the trial, the prevalence of peanut allergies at age 5 was 13.7% in the avoidance group and only 1.9% in the consumption group (see the journal’s video for an easy explanation).
A result like this is extremely unlikely to have occurred by chance.
Dr. Lack got the idea for the study when he noticed that peanut allergies were rare in Israel. Israeli infants are routinely offered foods made with peanuts, whereas British and American parents have been told not to feed peanuts to young children.
The authors conclude:
Our findings showed that early, sustained consumption of peanut products was associated with a substantial and significant decrease in the development of peanut allergy in high-risk infants. Conversely, peanut avoidance was associated with a greater frequency of clinical peanut allergy than was peanut consumption, which raises questions about the usefulness of deliberate avoidance of peanuts as a strategy to prevent allergy.
The implications are clear: expose young children to peanut butter (the accompanying editorial explains how to do this safely). And to prevent choking, don’t give them peanuts until they can chew.
Other newspaper articles on this topic: