Allergies are on the increase – probably because of over-protection of children

The cost of allergies, and the increasing number of people carrying “Epipen” reflects the fact that Allergies are on the increase – and this is probably because of over-zealous protection of children by anxious parents. Chris Smith in The Times 24th Feb 2014 reports:Feeding your baby peanut butter cuts risk of allergies. If this applies to other allergies (which is likely) then we have the evidence to reduce rather than increase our expenditure on allergies.

Regularly feeding peanut butter to babies cuts their chances of developing an allergy by more than 80 per cent, a study has concluded.

A surge in peanut allergies in recent decades appears to have been partly driven by faulty health advice that told parents to avoid nuts, researchers said.

Babies shielded from peanuts were much more likely to develop allergies, the study found, prompting calls for the NHS to issue fresh guidance to parents.

Professor Gideon Lack, head of paediatric allergy at King’s College London, who led the study, said: “I believe this does settle the question. One can confidently say that introducing peanuts early to the infant diet will prevent the development of peanut allergy.”

Peanut allergies were almost unknown two decades ago, but have doubled in the past 10 years, with about 3 per cent of children now suffering. Medical advice introduced in 1998 said that young children should avoid peanuts, although this advice was withdrawn ten years later. “In part the rise in peanut allergy over the past few decades can be explained by the avoidance of peanuts,” said Professor Lack.

He looked at 640 children thought to be at risk of peanut allergies because they had eczema or were allergic to eggs. Half were told to avoid peanuts and half were told to eat the equivalent of three peanut-buttered slices of toast a week, which Professor Lack said they generally enjoyed. Of the 530 children with no signs of peanut allergy at the start of the study, 13.7 per cent of those who avoided nuts were allergic by age five, compared to 1.9 per cent of those who had peanuts regularly.

Of the remaining children who did have signs of allergy as babies, 35.3 per cent of those who ate no nuts developed allergies, compared to 10.6 of those who ate nuts regularly, according to data in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Professor Lack said that these children might need to see a doctor, but parents of children at lower risk should give their babies peanuts. “Once the infants have been successfully weaned to solids, ideally at four or five months, they should start consuming peanut products such as butter or snacks on a regular basis,” he said.

Researchers in Cambridge are looking into curing peanut allergies by gradually exposing children to small quantities of peanut protein, but this is done under close medical supervision. “Generally it’s easier to prevent a disease if you know how to do so than to treat it,” Professor Lack said.

Both studies support the theory that allergy is caused when babies are first exposed to peanut protein through the skin, triggering the body’s immune response, rather than through the digestive system.

Professor Lack began his study when doubts emerged about advice to avoid peanuts, with one study finding that Jewish children in London who were not routinely given peanuts were ten times as likely to develop allergies as Jewish children in Israel, where babies are introduced to peanuts early.

This entry was posted in A Personal View, Good News, Stories in the Media on by .

About Roger Burns - retired GP

I am a retired GP and medical educator. I have supported patient participation throughout my career, and my practice, St Thomas; Surgery, has had a longstanding and active Patient Participation Group (PPG). I support the idea of Community Health Councils, although I feel they should be funded at arms length from government. I have taught GP trainees for 30 years, and been a Programme Director for GP training in Pembrokeshire 20 years. I served on the Pembrokeshire LHG and LHB for a total of 10 years. I completed an MBA in 1996, and I along with most others, never had an exit interview from any job in the NHS! I completed an MBA in 1996, and was a runner up for the Adam Smith prize for economy and efficiency in government in that year. This was owing to a suggestion (St Thomas' Mutual) that practices had incentives for saving by being allowed to buy rationed out services in the following year.

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