Feeding peanut snacks to babies reduces their chance of allergy

Research carried out at King’s College London suggests that feeding peanut snacks to babies could reduce their chance of becoming allergic.

The researchers said the babies who were fed peanuts (or rather, products containing peanuts) maintained their immunity even if they stopped eating them in childhood.

The study, which has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, followed 550 children considered to be at risk (meaning that they have a family history of intolerance) of developing a peanut allergy. It was found that babies fed peanut snacks before the age of 11 months were 74 per cent less likely to develop an allergy by the age of six.

In the group of children that avoided peanuts, the allergy rate was significantly higher, at 18.6 per cent, than it was in the consumption group (4.8 per cent).

The NHS currently recommends that peanuts should not be fed to at-risk children, but the researchers say this should be reconsidered. They caution that anyone thinking of doing so should consult their GP first — the children involved in the study were closely monitored by doctors.

Instant analysis
This is a groundbreaking study. It raises questions about the current guidance – to avoid feeding at-risk children peanuts until they are three years old – but also about how allergies develop.

First, though, there are some discrepancies — a number of children reported eating either more or less peanut than they were supposed to under the study rules. This could skew the data and results to a degree.

However, the study did show a demonstrable difference between the exposure and abstinence groups. It paves the way for more work identifying how allergies occur and how they can be modulated.

It must be mentioned that the study was conducted in a safe, controlled environment, but still had a significant amount of adverse events. The authors say the results should not lead parents to start feeding peanuts to their children if there is a risk of reaction. (Though it is worth noting that a population comparison between 8- to 14-month-old children in the UK and Israel found that Israel, where children eat more peanuts on average, had a much lower rate of allergy.)

I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the coming years, the guidance was tentatively revised.
Research score: 4/5

  • nisakiman

    Well it’s common sense, really. If you bring kids up in a sterile environment they don’t have a chance to build up resistance to anything.

    It’s like the only statistically significant finding that came out of the massive pan-European study by Boffetta et al on the effects of so-called ‘second-hand smoke’ was that children brought up in a smoking household had considerably better health outcomes than kids brought up in a non-smoking household.

    Naturally, the WHO (an avowedly anti-smoking organisation) who commissioned the study, buried the whole thing as it didn’t come up with the ‘right’ results. Such is the state of ‘scientific research’ these days.