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Public health guidelines, paediatricians and allergists in many countries, including New Zealand, have previously recommended avoiding foods that cause allergies (such as peanut) in an infant's diet. This advice was withdrawn a few years ago but until now there hasn't been evidence to show early exposure to peanuts would reduce a child's risk of developing peanut allergy.

The LEAP (Learning Early About Peanut Allergy) study led by Professor Gideon Lack, of King's College London, is the first study to show that consumption is an effective strategy to prevent food allergy, contradicting previous recommendations.

The LEAP study, a randomised controlled trial, enrolled 640 children aged four to 11 months from Evelina London Children's Hospital, who were considered at high-risk of developing peanut allergy due to pre-existing severe eczema and/or egg allergy.

Half of the children were asked to eat peanut-containing foods three or more times each week, and the other half had to avoid eating peanut until five years of age.

Less than 1 percent of children who consumed peanut as per study protocol and completed the study had developed a peanut allergy by the age of five years - while 17.3 percent in the avoidance group developed peanut allergy.

Importantly, the early introduction of peanut containing foods was found to be safe and well tolerated; infants were not fed whole peanuts, which carry a risk of choking in young children.

The study concluded that early, sustained consumption of peanut is safe and associated with a substantial and significant decrease in the development of peanut allergy in high-risk infants by the age of five.


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Issue: Summer-Autumn 2015