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Yes, kids can avoid peanut allergies

Peanut butter.

Peanut butter. Credit: iStock

Doctors now say we’ve got to expose our beloved little peanuts to peanut proteins before they are 6 months old, even the ones who are allergy-prone.

These new guidelines from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases are a huge shift from the old recommendations to keep children — particularly those with eczema or egg allergies considered to be at high risk of peanut allergies — away from peanut products until they were at least 3 years old. Peanut avoidance for infants and toddlers had become an unquestioned mantra for most parents, but it turns out that avoidance mostly led to a massive increase in the peanut allergy, which can lead to anaphylactic shock and, in rare cases, death.

Between 1999 and 2010, the prevalence of peanut allergies in the United States quadrupled, from less than 0.5 percent of kids to about 2 percent. A similar increase was seen in Britain. But scientists noticed that Israeli children eat a lot of products with peanuts, including a popular puffed corn and peanut treat called Bamba. Those kids were 10 times less likely to have peanut allergies than children of similar backgrounds in Britain. Researchers began a study that flipped the recommendations.

A trial in England showed that allergy-prone children who avoided peanuts from 4 to 11 months of age were six times more likely to develop the allergy by age 5 than allergy-prone kids introduced to peanut proteins. Even babies known to be sensitive to peanuts were 3.5 times less likely to develop a full-blown allergy if exposed carefully.

Doctors still warn that high-risk infants need to be exposed only with the supervision of a doctor. Toddlers shouldn’t be given peanuts themselves, which can be a choking risk. Studies need to continue, and there will always be a few people who are dangerously allergic to peanuts.

But it’s a relief to see a way out of this health problem, even if it’s a cautionary tale about a situation largely caused by overly careful official recommendations that instilled fear in parents.