A peanut allergy is one of the most common food allergies in the United States, and interestingly, it affects a higher percentage of children than adults. Thanks to a slew of studies and scientific research over the past few years, our knowledge of the peanut allergy, what causes it, and how to possibly prevent it has drastically changed. One area that scientists haven't studied too much is whether or not parents and caregivers have been following guidelines regarding feeding infants peanuts — until now. A new study investigated the matter, and researchers found that most caregivers have not been following early peanut introduction guidelines.
Before getting into the fascinating results of the new study, here's a little background on early peanut introduction (EPI) and how it affects allergies. As explained by Gizmodo, advice given to new parents regarding EPI has varied wildly due to research over the past 18 years. In 2000, experts advised parents not to feed their children peanuts until they were 3 years old, in order to prevent a peanut allergy. In 2008, as Gizmodo noted, the American Academy of Pediatrics took back this recommendation, admitting that there was not enough evidence that EPI could cause a peanut allergy.
In 2015, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that EPI actually put kids at a lower risk of developing a peanut allergy, and subsequently, in 2017, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases encouraged caregivers to introduce peanuts to infants in order to prevent allergies.
OK, so now that everyone is up to date, here's the scoop on the new study, which was recently published in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. As the study noted, it is recommended that EPI begins when a child is about 6 months old, or, for infants who have eczema or an egg allergy, when they are between 4 and 6 months old. The researchers surveyed 1,000 caregivers or parents of infants, and 1,000 expecting caregivers or parents. They concluded that the general willingness to introduce peanuts to infants was poor, writing:
Among new and expecting caregivers, there is poor current willingness and questionable support for early allergenic solid food recommendations, including [in-office allergy risk assessment] before introduction.
More specifically, only 31 percent of those surveyed said they would be willing to do EPI with their child when they were 6 months old or younger, and 40 percent said they would introduce peanuts after their child turned 11 months old. Additionally, 29 percent of those surveyed weren't familiar with the instructions that EPI could prevent peanut allergies. Also, expecting caregivers were significantly more supportive of EPI than current caregivers.
However, the 2,000 people surveyed were mostly married white women — 99.7 percent of those surveyed were female, 80.3 percent were married, and 74.4 percent were white. So while the results of the study are certainly telling, it is extremely important in studies like this to include people from a variety of backgrounds. Hopefully more inclusive research on this topic will come out soon.
So, what should be done with these results? The researchers believe there is a need to better educate parents on the advantages of early introduction of peanuts and other common allergens, explaining:
These trends underscore a need for broader formal implementation planning to facilitate early allergen introduction and maximize its preventive benefits.
Furthermore, over the past year, scientists have made several breakthroughs in the field of curing peanut allergies. Just last month, researchers studied 500 kids who were allergic to peanuts. They fed subjects tiny amounts of peanuts every day via capsules of peanut powder, and found that 67 percent of those studied built up a tolerance to peanuts.
It's great that there has been so much research in the field of peanut allergies, and hopefully prevention and treatment of the allergy continues to become a better-understood field.
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