Parents should introduce foods like peanut butter to their baby’s diet before they turn one-year-old to reduce their chance of developing food allergies, a new public health campaign recommends.
- The rate of food allergies in Australia has risen 7 per cent a year for the past five years
- Feeding peanut to children at six months of age drastically reduces their chance of developing a peanut allergy, studies indicate
- For decades, parents were advised to delay introducing allergenic foods to children’s diets until about two or three years of age
Australia has the highest rate of food allergies in the world — one in 10 babies born here is allergic to foods like peanuts, eggs and milk by their first birthday.
Paediatric immunologist Richard Loh, co-chair of the National Allergy Strategy (NAS), said the country’s allergy rates are only getting worse.
“It’s been increasing for the past 20 years,” Dr Loh said.
“Australian data has shown a rise of approximately 7 per cent a year for the past five years, in terms of food allergies.
“We need to do something about it.”
The NAS, launched today, is being driven by two not-for-profit groups — the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) and Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia (A&AA) — and was funded by the Federal Government.
The two organisations also receive funding from other sources, including corporate sponsors.
The Australian Government’s healthdirect website advises parents to introduce foods that commonly cause allergies to their children one by one from the age of six months.
In a statement, the Federal Government said it was “supportive” of the NAS and had provided $1.1 million in funding for it since 2016.
It advises parents to not give children peanuts, or food containing peanuts, before the age of six months.
A 2015 study known as LEAP (Learning Early About Peanut), found feeding peanut-based foods to children at around six months of age drastically reduced their chance of developing a peanut allergy.
That research was funded by the Seattle-based Immune Tolerance Network using money from the US Government and included 600 children aged between four and 11 months.
The children involved in the study had severe eczema and/or egg allergies, which put them at “high risk” of developing a peanut allergy.
Its findings have been endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Professor Mimi Tang, head of allergy immunology at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, said changing the way Australians think about allergies was important.
“Ten years ago we were telling people to avoid the foods but that has changed now,” she said.
“But the best way to prevent food allergy is to eat it and eat it early, but not before [the child is] four months old.
“The majority of allergic reactions are really mild.”
The Australian Government advises parents of children with egg allergies, severe eczema or other food allergies to consult their doctor before giving their children peanuts for the first time.
“If you introduce peanut between four to 11 months of age in what we call high-risk infants — so these are infants with moderate or severe eczema and, or egg allergy — it could reduce peanut allergy by up to 80 per cent,” Dr Loh said.
Kathy Beck, the chair of the Dietician Committee for the ASCIA, said the LEAP study was prompted by an observation in Israel.
The study was lead by Professor Gideon Lack, of Kings College London, and probed why the rate of peanut allergy was 10 times higher among Jewish children in the United Kingdom than those in Israel.
“He was visiting a colleague in Israel and noticed a mother feeding her little baby Bamba, which is a peanut butter and corn snack,” Ms Beck said.
“It’s a bit like a Twistie but peanut butter flavoured.
“What the mums do is they actually dilute it in expressed breastmilk or water and give that to their infant.
“Of course he thought, well, in Israel there’s no peanut allergy and in the UK where he was from, the percentage was about 1.7 per cent of the population.
“So that’s where the founding of the LEAP study came and then many years later when it was published it was actually proven in a very large, well-controlled, well-designed study.”
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-06-24/allergy-campaign-recommends-giving-peanut-butter-to-babies/11239494PHOTO: Peanut is deadly for a growing number of Australians, with one in 10 babies born with a food allergy. (ABC News: Rebecca Trigger)