A new study has found that babies should be given solid foods from as young as four months old in order to prevent allergies.
Introducing children to foods that typically cause allergic reactions – such as peanuts and eggs – at four to six months old gives them a higher chance of avoiding a food allergy later in life, researchers discovered. The advice is contrary to the current advice that children should not be given such foods until they are at least six months old.
In the US, the American Academy of Pediatrics also says solids should be introduced at this age. In the UK, the national health services gives the same advice, and says introducing solid foods before this time may cause food allergies.
Earlier this year, a British study called LEAP (Learning Early About Peanut), came to the same conclusion. It found those who eat food containing peanuts three or more times a week from under the age of one rarely have reactions in later life.
Less than one per cent develop an allergy, compared with 17 per cent of children whose diet was peanut-free. Food allergies cause breathing problems, and can even be fatal, as the most severely afflicted can have a life-threatening anaphylactic shock when exposed to just a trace of the allergen in food.
The researchers said food allergies have soared 18 per cent between 1997 and 2007 in the US. A recent survey of Canadian households found eight per cent reported at least one such allergy. In the UK, up to eight per cent of children have a proven food allergy, according to charity Allergy UK.
The most common allergens are cow’s milk, soy, peanut, tree nuts, eggs, wheat, fish, shellfish and sesame. Babies with parents or siblings who have allergies – especially to peanut – are at higher risk.
LEAP found introducing these children to peanuts earlier – rather than later – reduced the risk of an allergy by up to 80 per cent. However, parents are advised to seek a doctor’s opinion before introducing peanuts to their children.
Since the LEAP study was published, groups such as the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, now say there is ‘strong evidence’ to support the introduction of peanut between four and 11 months in infants at risk. In the US, previous guidelines recommended avoiding potentially allergenic foods until children were one to three years old.