Give babies peanuts and they won't become allergic, doctors say

Parents are being urged to feed their kids eggs and nuts before they turn one, in an effort to stamp out food allergies.

Kiwi and Aussie doctors from the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy make the recommendation in new guidelines, summarised in the latest issue of the Medical Journal of Australia, published Monday.

"There is an urgent need to prevent food allergy as there is no current cure," it reads. "As such, any measures which have proven efficacy in primary prevention should be given significant consideration in public health policy."

Recent research has found introducing peanuts to an infant's diet can reduce the chance they'll develop a potentially fatal allergy by as much as 70 percent. For eggs, the risk can be lowered 40 percent. 

While MedSafe says there is little New Zealand data on food allergy rates, it estimates between 1 and 2 percent of the population are at risk. Its current recommendation is for pregnant women with existing allergic conditions - such as hayfever, asthma or eczema - to avoid peanuts, and not let their child eat them until they're three.

But doctors now say that might not be the right course of action.

"During the 2000s, multiple cohort studies reported finding no evidence that delayed introduction of allergenic foods was associated with reduced rates of food allergy," the latest article reads.

"In 2008, a cross-sectional study reported that the prevalence of peanut allergy was 10-fold higher among children in the UK (where infant peanut avoidance was recommended) compared with Israeli children of similar ancestry (where peanut is usually introduced at around 6-7 months)."

There is also no evidence avoiding peanuts while pregnant or breastfeeding reduces allergy rates, the article says.

The new recommendations are based on evidence from the Learning Early About Peanut Allergy study. It found the prevalence of peanut allergy at five years of age among those who didn't eat peanuts, but had no particular sensitivity, was 13.7 percent, while in the group who ate peanuts it was only 1.9 percent.

For those who tested positive for peanut sensitivity, it was 35.3 percent for those who didn't eat any, and 10.6 percent for those who did.

"The guidelines recommend that parents should introduce peanut before 12 months (but not before four months) and suggest discussing how to do this with the child's doctor," the new guidelines state.

Recent studies have found even older children with peanut allergies can reduce their sensitivity through limited exposure to peanut ingredients