A new public health campaign is suggesting parents introduce peanut butter to their baby’s diet much earlier than previously suggested – ideally between 6 and 12 months.
From six months onwards
This earlier introduction of peanuts is aiming to reduce the incidence of peanut allergies in children as the food allergy rate in kids continues to rise.
A drastic rethink is warranted, and it’s being fuelled by a 2015 study known as the LEAP study which found feeding peanut-based foods to children at around six months of age drastically reduced their chance of developing a peanut allergy.
The LEAP (Learning Early About Peanut) study was sparked by a really interesting observation made by its lead author Professor Gideon Lack when he was visiting Israel.
He noticed a mum giving her baby a snack called Bamba. Bamba is made from peanut butter and corn, and mums sometimes dilute it with breast milk or water and give it to their babies.
Turns out that peanut allergies are not much of a problem in Israel – the home of this snack-y Bamba and other similar peanut snacks for kids – and the professor joined the dots and sought to find out more about earlier exposure to peanuts and its impact on allergies.
“My Israeli colleagues and friends and young parents were telling me, ‘Look, we give peanuts to these children very early. Not whole peanuts, but peanut snacks,'” Professor Lack told NPR back in 2015.
“That raised the question whether early exposure would prevent these allergies” by peanut exposure, he explained. “It’s really a very fundamental change in the way we’re approaching these children.”
“Eat it early”
Professor Mimi Tang is the head of allergy-immunology at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and she confirmed that this rethink is sorely needed.
“Ten years ago we were telling people to avoid the foods but that has changed now,” she told the ABC.
“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 currently urges parents of children with an egg allergy, severe eczema or other food allergies to talk to their doctor ahead of giving their children peanuts for the first time.