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Peanuts have gotten a bad rap lately when it comes to allergens. It’s true that those who are sensitive to this funny nut can have a serious reaction, but it has caused many parents to stay away from the food altogether. A new study shows this may not be the best approach when it comes to kids’ health, and as a result, new recommendations have been posted.

According to Food Allergy Research and Education, the number of people with peanut allergies has tripled between 1997 and 2008. Ironically, these numbers skyrocketed just when people started to become more aware of the allergy and its dangers. However, tt was observed that Israeli children have a much lower incidence of peanut allergies, as they customarily serve infants snacks containing peanuts from a very young age. This gained the attention of the LEAP (Learning Early About Peanut Allergy) Foundation, and they began a study to investigate the phenomenon.

In the study, 600 children were placed in one of two groups. One group had no peanut products until 5 years of age. The other was given snacks containing peanuts three times a week, starting before the first birthday until they turned five. Eighteen percent of the children who had been avoiding peanuts had a peanut allergy at age 5, compared with only 1% of the children who had been introduced to peanut products at a very young age. Researchers conclude that exposing the children, many of whom were at high risk for an allergy, actually boosted the immune system and made them able to tolerate peanut products.

Because of this study, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology decided to create new guidelines for introducing peanut products, which are published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Children who are likely to have an allergy, because of severe eczema, an egg allergy, or family medical history, are to be exposed to peanut products at 4 to 6 months of age. Parents who are nervous about feeding the child food containing peanuts can see an allergist for a skin test. Babies who have mild to moderate eczema and those who are less likely to have an allergic reaction, should be fed peanut products starting at 6 months. Children who do not show any of these risk factors can start peanuts whenever parents deem it appropriate. Of course, the introduction to peanut-containing foods should only occur after other solid foods have been introduced.

It is important to note that young children should not be given actual peanuts to eat, as they are choking hazards. Instead, parents should offer infants and toddlers food that contain peanut flour.

If you are concerned about peanut allergies, and would like to discuss these new recommendations, contact us. A peanut allergy can be a serious condition, and it is important to make a plan that benefits your child’s health.