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Giving allergenic foods to infants from three months old may prevent allergies

A major new study for the Food Standards Agency (FSA) which has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine has found that introducing allergenic foods to the infant diet from three months of age may be effective in food allergy prevention if the recommended quantity of allergenic food was consumed.

The research compared those infants that were breastfed and consumed allergenic foods from three months with those solely breastfed and given foods at six months.

Overall, food allergy was lower in the group introduced to allergenic foods early but the difference was not statistically significant. Early introduction of all the foods was not easy but it was safe.

Among the infants who did manage to consume the recommended quantity of the allergenic foods there was a two-thirds reduction in overall food allergy.

Chief Scientific Adviser at the Food Standards Agency Guy Poppy said: 'The FSA has an important role to play in helping consumers manage food allergies and this includes expanding our knowledge about how allergies develop. This research is an important part of that work. These findings will add to the body of scientific evidence that helps us inform public health policies and guidelines on infant feeding.

'While this study will be of interest to parents, we would advise them to continue to follow existing Government infant feeding advice. It should also be emphasised that this research was carried out under guidance of allergy professionals.'

Professor Gideon Lack, Principal Investigator, said: 'The results of the analysis of infants who managed to consume the recommended amount are most striking for peanut and add to the growing body of evidence from our other studies, that early introduction of peanut prevents the development of peanut allergy in both a high risk population of children with eczema and in a general population.'

Dr Michael Perkin, St George’s University of London Co-Principal Investigator, said: 'Through the remarkable efforts of families from throughout England and Wales we have gained huge insights into what may be necessary to help protect infants from developing food allergies. The study will yield important results for a number of years to come.'

The science behind the story: 

The aim of the study was to establish whether early introduction of allergenic foods into the diet of breastfed infants would prevent the development of food allergy.

Over 1,300 infants, enrolled at the Evelina London Children’s Hospital, were split randomly into two groups. One group followed standard advice and were exclusively breastfed for around six months.

The second group was asked to introduce six allergenic foods to their infants from the age of three months. The allergenic foods introduced to these infants were: fish, cooked egg, milk, wheat, sesame and peanut.

Breastfeeding is best for babies and both groups were asked to follow the Government’s recommendations to continue to breastfeed their children up to the age of two years or beyond. Breastfeeding rates were the same in both groups with more than 96% of infants still being breastfed at six months of age and over 50% in both groups at one year of age.

The study looked at what impact the amount of allergenic food eaten had on food allergy as well as considering how often it was eaten and for how long. It found that the prevention of food allergy may be achieved with weekly consumption of approximately one and half teaspoons of peanut butter and one small boiled egg.

The safety of participants was monitored very closely throughout the study. No cases of anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) were reported during the initial introduction period.

The Enquiring About Tolerance (EAT) study was funded by the FSA, with additional funding from the Medical Research Council (MRC), and carried out at King’s College London with the support of St George’s University of London.

The study was led by Professor Gideon Lack, Head of Department of Paediatric Allergy, King’s College London and Head of the Children’s Allergy Service at Evelina London Children’s Hospital, Dr Michael Perkin, Senior Lecturer in Paediatric Allergy, King’s College London and Consultant in Paediatric Allergy, St George’s University of London and study coordinator Dr Kirsty Logan.

Final report summary of the EAT Study (61.57 KB)

More in this section

EAT Study: early introduction of allergenic foods to induce tolerance (ongoing)

The EAT Study was funded to investigate whether the early introduction of six allergenic foods (milk, peanut, sesame, fish, egg, wheat) into the infant weaning diet, alongside continued breastfeeding, reduced the number of children developing food allergies and other allergic diseases (such as eczema) by three years of age.


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