Babies should be fed peanut butter before they are six months old to reduce their chances of developing a peanut allergy, scientists have found.
Official advice previously stated babies should avoid peanut products until they are three years old, while current NHS guidance is to introduce peanuts to a baby’s diet after six months.
But new data from a study run by King’s College London (KCL) has found the earlier that babies can start eating peanut products the less likely they are to develop a peanut allergy as children.
The majority of peanut allergies develop as a result of not being exposed to the food in infancy and can be avoided by early exposure.
Peanut allergies are also more common in people with eczema and the scientists recommend these children should be introduced to peanuts by four months of age to reduce their chance of developing the allergy.
This four to six months period has been dubbed the “window of opportunity” to curb peanut allergies.
Parents giving peanuts to babies are advised to give a heaped teaspoon of smooth peanut butter, broken up with breast milk or formula, three times a week, and not whole peanuts or chopped nuts as they pose a choking hazard. Reactions to peanuts at this age are very rare and most are minor, the scientists say.
Scientists took data from around 2,000 people and created a model to understand how the introduction of peanuts to a child’s diet altered the population-level prevalence of peanut allergies.
Roughly two per cent of British children currently have a peanut allergy, equating to around one in 50. But experts say that giving all children some form of peanuts between four and six months would cut this by 77 per cent.
Analysis reveals this could reduce the number of children developing peanut allergies, which can be fatal in later life, by 10,000 people a year.
Waiting to introduce peanuts into a child’s diet until 12 months of age would lead to only a 33 per cent reduction, the study shows, with time being of the utmost importance.
“Looking back with all the data we’ve got now from the randomised control trials, it does look as if the epidemic of peanut allergy we’ve had in the UK is because we haven’t been feeding infants and small children peanuts,” Prof Graham Roberts, Professor in Paediatric Allergy & Respiratory Medicine at the University of Southampton and lead author of the study, said.
“But that’s only because we now all have all this great, randomised controlled trial data that we can look back and come to that conclusion.”
Ms Mary Feeney, a paediatric dietitian at King’s College London, said: “The research suggests all babies should be introduced to peanut products between four and six months of age and babies with eczema should be introduced to that product at four months of age.
“This is different from the current government recommendations from 2018, which is the most recent, which is to start peanut products from around six months. Our suggestion is that these recommendations should be reviewed in light of this.
“Practical advice for families is that breastfeeding is recommended to continue alongside introducing solid foods, so it’s not either or. Babies should also be developmentally ready before they are introduced.
“Peanut butter introduction should be a part of normal complementary feeding. We don’t want to medicalise this.”
Parents should start getting their child used to solid foods with vegetables, fruits and cereals first before moving on to peanut products, she added.
Researchers advise mothers to breastfeed for at least the first six months of their child’s life as well as introducing peanuts to their diet from four to six months.
The researchers are urging health officials to take their findings on board and to change the official recommendations which are currently based on data that pre-dates these revelations.
“The advice has changed multiple times in the last two to three years. At one stage it was don’t eat peanuts until you’re over three,” Prof Roberts said.
“That has come down to the second half of the first year of life, but it has changed multiple times.
“I think it’s fair to say that healthcare professionals are confused and parents and families definitely.
“The Department of Health is currently reviewing nutrition in one to five-year-olds and there will be a report coming out, presumably at some point in the not-too-distant future.
“They will re-review that enough to one year old and I would hope that this data will change those government recommendations.”
The results are published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
Sign up to the Front Page newsletter for free: Your essential guide to the day's agenda from The Telegraph - direct to your inbox seven days a week.2023-03-17T14:45:00Z dg43tfdfdgfd