In the US, roughly 2 percent of children have peanut allergies—a rate that has quadrupled in less than two decades. So it's no surprise that many parents still fumble with the decision of whether or not to introduce their infant to foods containing peanuts.
New research should put an end to any of those doubts—the New England Journal of Medicine released a study yesterday that suggests peanut allergies can be prevented by introducing peanuts at a young age.
The study observed 4 to 11 month old infants who were at a high risk for developing a peanut allergy, and followed them until the age of five. All 530 infants were predetermined to be at a higher risk of developing an allergy because of severe eczema, egg allergy, or both.
The participants were split into two groups: half consumed six grams of peanut protein per week, while the other group avoided the consumption of peanuts altogether. Once the children turned five, they were given an allergy test—and the results were dramatic.
"Only 1.9 percent of those who were fed peanuts were allergic to them, compared with 13.7 percent of the children in the group that avoided peanuts," reports the New York Times.
Despite the significant findings, there are always more questions to consider: Would the same conclusions be made for children who are not at a high risk for peanut allergies? And what if the children participating in the study no longer received regular feedings of peanuts, would they begin to develop an allergy?
Dr. Gideon Lack, the leader of this study and a professor of pediatric allergy at King's College London, and his team are currently seeking these answers. The group of children who consumed peanuts were told to cease feedings at the age of five, and are being observed for another year.
Rather than introducing peanuts, which could be a potential choking hazard, parents are encouraged to introduce foods like peanut butter mixed into fruit or vegetable purees to their young children.
This new research may be the first concrete step in overturning beliefs that have been ingrained in many parents' heads over the years.
Caitlin St John is an Editorial Assistant for Parents.com who splits her time between New York City and her hometown on Long Island. She's a self-proclaimed foodie who loves dancing and anything to do with her baby nephew. Follow her on Twitter:@CAITYstjohn
When to Worry: Food Allergies
Image: Peanut butter on spoon via Shutterstock