By: Tristan Dorn
Food allergies have been a growing area of concern among members of American society over the last few years. Nut allergies, specifically to peanuts, have been at the forefront of this discussion. There is often changing information about school policies surrounding peanut butter sandwiches, a growing market for peanut butter alternatives, and even backlash against companies that use peanut oil in their products. One of the most discussed topics among families, old and new, is whether or not to introduce children to peanuts. Questions of whether nut exposure causes allergies or age exposure affects the incidence of allergies, or if children should not be exposed to certain foods at all, is often an area of lasting debate.
A new study, “Learning Early About Peanut Allergy” or LEAP, is a clinical trial that delved into the questions of “Should young children eat peanuts or avoid them? Which is a better approach to preventing peanut allergy?” This study has made strides in this area and has even led to an addendum of the 2010 Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy in the United States. This study and the resulting guidelines are a result of coordination between the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Physicians. The results of the study, according to the LEAP website state that, “Of the children who avoided peanut, 17% developed peanut allergy by the age of 5 years. Remarkably, only 3% of the children who were randomized to eating the peanut snack developed allergy by age 5” (LEAP, 2017).
An article by CNN divides the recommendations into 3 easy to follow categories. First, children who are likely to develop a peanut allergy should be exposed to peanut-containing foods from 4-6 months or consult with an allergist for an allergy test. The second group concerns children with low likelihood to develop a peanut allergy or with a history of eczema. These children should be exposed to peanut- containing foods at 6 months. The last category of children is those who have no family history of peanut allergy and/or are at low risk of developing an allergy. These children can be given peanut-containing food at any age (Scutti, 2017).
Interestingly, this parallels customs of food exposure seen in other countries. Families in Israel expose their children to peanut products as early as possible, and the country has a very low rate of peanut allergies. It is important to note that while families are recommended to give children peanut based products, whole peanuts are a choking hazard.
These guidelines should help reduce the incidence of peanut allergies among the American population in future years. As a public health concern, the results from this study indicate a method of preventative care is effective in reducing the development of peanut allergies. Although studies pertaining to other common allergens have not been conducted on as large or as rigorous scale as the LEAP study, the conclusive results provided by LEAP indicate that the early exposure method may be the preferred technique of the future.