When should I give my kid peanuts, now?
Early introduction of potentially allergenic foods may reduce allergy risk

November 21, 2019

Awareness and understanding of food allergy is growing, given that more than 2.6 million Canadians are living with this medical condition. Through educational efforts, more people now better understand that food allergy is serious and how to help if someone has an allergic reaction. Food manufacturers are also required to clearly label products if the Health Canada’s priority food allergens, such as peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, and cow’s milk, are among the ingredients.

That’s good news for the roughly seven percent of Canadians who report having a food allergy. Nonetheless, it’s still an everyday challenge living with a food allergy.

For parents of children with food allergy, it means reading food labels, asking about ingredients and food prep, planning ahead and being vigilant when eating out, and notifying teachers, caregivers, parents, friends, and families of their child’s allergies. It also means educating their kids, so they know what to do to keep themselves safe.

Why do some kids develop food allergy and others don’t? What can parents do to reduce the risk of food allergy in their kids? When should parents expose them to potentially allergenic foods?

Research from the CHILD Cohort Study suggests that early introduction of some potentially allergenic foods may help prevent the development of allergies to those foods in some children. Researchers used data from over 2,100 infants and families participating in the study. This included detailed information on the infants’ diets at three, six, 12, 18, and 24 months of age and when exactly the infants were first fed cow’s milk products, eggs, and peanuts.

At one year of age, the children underwent skin prick tests to detect sensitization to 10 common allergens, including four possible food allergens.

Sensitization means you react to a skin allergy test, which isn’t the same as having symptoms of allergy. However, sensitization can be an early sign of a future problem and a substantial number of sensitized children do go on to develop an allergic disorder.

The researchers then compared the results of the skin prick tests with the timing of the introduction of the allergenic foods.

What did they find?

First, the researchers found that it is common for parents to delay the introduction of potentially allergenic foods. In fact, more than 75% of parents waited to introduce egg to their infants until they were at least seven months old; while 63% of parents avoided feeding peanut entirely during their babies’ first year.

As far as sensitization, infants who avoided cow’s milk products in the first year were nearly four times as likely to be sensitized to cow’s milk compared to infants who consumed cow’s milk before 12 months of age. In addition, infants who avoided egg or peanut in their first year were twice as likely to be sensitized to those foods compared to infants who consumed them before 12 months of age.

This research is helping to shape infant feeding guidelines and strategies for reducing the risk of food allergy in children. In 2019, for example, the Canadian Paediatric Society released updated recommendations on the specific timing of early introduction of allergenic foods for high-risk infants. The new guidance is to actively offer non-choking forms of foods containing common allergens (e.g. peanuts, egg) around 6 months of age, but not before 4 months, as this can be effective in preventing food allergy in some high-risk infants.

Learn more about preventing food allergy on the Food Allergy Canada website, where you will find webinars from leading allergists, FAQs, and more.

The CHILD Cohort Study is a national birth cohort study where researchers are tracking the health of nearly 3,500 Canadian children to find ways to prevent asthma, allergies, obesity and other chronic diseases.

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