Giving peanut-based foods to babies early prevents allergies

In this photo provided by the Carrie Stevenson, her daughter Estelle holds a bag of peanut snacks in her pediatrician’s office at age nine-months, in Columbus, Ohio. Most babies should start eating peanut-containing foods well before their first birthday, say guidelines released Thursday that aim to protect high-risk tots and other youngsters, too, from developing the dangerous food allergy. The new guidelines from the National Institutes of Health mark a shift in dietary advice, based on landmark research that found early exposure dramatically lowers a baby's chances of becoming allergic. (Carrie Stevenson via AP)

A child holds a bag of peanut snacks in her pediatrician’s office at age nine-months, in Columbus, Ohio.

Most babies should start eating peanut-containing foods well before their first birthday, say guidelines released Thursday that aim to protect high-risk tots and other youngsters, too, from developing the dangerous food allergy.

The new guidelines from the National Institutes of Health mark a shift in dietary advice, based on landmark research that found early exposure dramatically lowers a baby’s chances of becoming allergic.

The recommendations spell out exactly how to introduce infants to peanut-based foods and when — for some, as early as 4 to 6 months of age — depending on whether they’re at high, moderate or low risk of developing one of the most troublesome food allergies.

“We’re on the cusp of hopefully being able to prevent a large number of cases of peanut allergy,” said Dr. Matthew Greenhawt of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, a member of the NIH-appointed panel that wrote the guidelines.

Babies at high risk — because they have a severe form of the skin rash eczema or egg allergies — need a check-up before any peanut exposure, and might get their first taste in the doctor’s office.

For other tots, most parents can start adding peanut-containing foods to the diet much like they already introduced oatmeal or mushed peas.

No, babies don’t get whole peanuts or a big glob of peanut butter — those are choking hazards. Instead, the guidelines include options like watered-down peanut butter or easy-to-gum peanut-flavored “puff” snacks.

“It’s an important step forward,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which appointed experts to turn the research findings into user-friendly guidelines. “When you do desensitize them from an early age, you have a very positive effect.”

Peanut allergy is a growing problem, affecting about 2 percent of U.S. children who must avoid the wide array of peanut-containing foods or risk severe, even life-threatening, reactions.