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New Study Says Feed Babies Peanuts to Avoid Allergies

A PB&J keeps the doctor away.

Kids love peanut butter. Photo by Evan-Amos via Wikimedia Commons

The answer to the growing scourge of peanut allergies is more peanuts. On Monday, scientists at King's College London released a study comparing allergy rates between two groups of babies; one cohort received early exposure to the legume, while others were kept away for 60 months. The results were fairly definitive—feeding peanuts or peanut-containing foods to young children reduced their chance of developing the allergy by more than 80 percent.

According to a 2010 study by allergists at Mount Sinai Hospital, the rate of peanut allergies more than tripled between 1997 and 2010. While it’s been pointed out that this was a self-reported study and the numbers may be overstated, by any estimation, prevalence of the condition has increased significantly. And as PB&J bans sweep schools in the U.S. and Britain, anxiety over the often life-threatening allergy has ballooned exponentially, becoming a battleground parenting issue and incipient sign of the times that some have dubbed the “peanut panic.”

Bamba. Photo by Ond?ej Langr via Wikimedia Commons

It turned out the answer to the peanut conundrum lay with Bamba. Bamba is an incredibly popular Israeli snack food, a sort of peanut-flavored cheese doodle, if you can picture such a thing. Having been exposed to this snack as a child myself, I’ve been surprised to hear friends who’d never seen the stuff describe it as “gross,” “texturally unpleasant,” and “what the hell is this crap?” But Professor Gideon Lack, who led the King’s College study, noticed the edge Bamba-eating children were gaining—allergy rates among Israeli kids are 10 times lower than those found in comparable British tots. “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,’” Lack told NPR.

Lack believes babies should be exposed to peanut products as soon as possible to avoid allergy development. “We've moved, really, 180 degrees from complete avoidance to ‘we should give peanuts to young children actively,’ ” he said. Lack’s work, while reaffirming elements of the “hygiene hypothesis” that many already suspected were true, is great news for kids and nervous parents, not to mention the peanut industry. “This is a major study—really what we would call a landmark study,” Scott Sicherer, an advisor on allergies to the American Academy of Pediatrics explained to NPR. “There's been a huge question about why there's an increase in peanut allergy and what we can do to try to stem that increase. And this is a study that directly addresses that issue.”

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