Triggered by growing concerns regarding the numbers of children with peanut allergies, as many as two percent, which by some accounts reflects a four-fold increase since the late 1990s, the National Institutes of Health sponsored a study on ways that parents can reduce the risk to their children. The results may be surprising.

Conventional Wisdom

It’s long been known that a severe peanut allergy can have dangerous consequences, including death. Therefore, the traditional thinking was that it was prudent to avoid introducing peanuts to a child’s diet until the child was older. Now it is suggested that the better approach for some children may be to “tolerize” a child to peanuts, rather than avoidance.

The LEAP Study

The Learning Early about Peanut allergy study has proposed three basic guidelines based on the individual child:

• For children who are have severe egg allergy or asthma or both: these children are likely to be at greatest risk for a peanut allergy. A skin test can determine that fact. If the child does have a serious peanut allergy, it is recommended to avoid peanuts. But if no allergy exists or there is a moderate skin reaction, the suggestion is for parents to introduce peanut-containing foods at four to six months.

• For children with mild to moderate eczema: in this category, a child is suspected to be at moderate risk of a peanut allergy, and the LEAP recommendation is introduction of peanut-containing food at six months old.

• For children with no food allergies, no eczema and no family history of peanut allergy: the guidelines indicate introduction of peanut-containing food at any age based on cultural and individual preferences.

Information based on this scientific study points to the conclusion that the introduction of peanuts early in a child’s life may actually reduce the likelihood the child will develop a peanut allergy.

It is to be emphasized that providing whole peanuts or large pieces to babies can be extremely dangerous. The recommendations point to peanut-flavored food suitable for the child’s age and capabilities.

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