Feeding peanuts to young children could reduce allergy risk: study

Children who consume peanut products during their first five years are significantly less likely to develop a peanut allergy as they approach early adolescence, according to a study published Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). This study is a follow-up to earlier research demonstrating a strong correlation between early peanut exposure — from four to six months old until five years — and a reduced risk of developing a peanut allergy. Researchers compared the prevalence of peanut allergies in a group exposed to peanuts early on with a group that avoided peanut consumption over the same period.

The latest findings reveal that the tolerance developed from early peanut exposure persists even into early adolescence. Out of the 640 participants in the original study, 497 were included in this follow-up study. Results showed that peanut allergies were still significantly more prevalent among the group that avoided peanuts compared to the group that consumed peanuts from infancy.

In the group that avoided early peanut consumption, 38 of 246 participants (15.4%) had developed a peanut allergy by age 13. Conversely, in the group that consumed peanuts from infancy, only 11 of 251 participants (4.4%) had a peanut allergy at the same age.

Participants in both groups were allowed to consume peanuts as they wished from age five to 13, with some reporting prolonged periods of avoiding peanuts. Despite this, the initial early exposure appeared to provide lasting protection against developing an allergy.

Researchers now recommend that parents introduce peanut products to their children starting at six months old if the child does not have eczema and at four months old if the child does have eczema. This early introduction strategy is crucial given the rising prevalence of peanut allergies in recent years. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, peanut allergies in children increased by 21 percent from 2010 to 2017. As of the 2017 study, nearly 2.5 percent of U.S. children may have an allergy to peanuts.

Overall, this study underscores the importance of early dietary interventions in preventing peanut allergies and suggests that early peanut consumption could be a key strategy in reducing the incidence of peanut allergies among children.

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