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FDA recognizes NIH health claim for prevention of peanut allergy in infants

The agency acknowledged NIH guidelines announced last year after the LEAP trial suggested that giving certain high-risk infants peanut protein reduced development of the allergy by 81 percent.

By Amy Wallace
FDA recognizes NIH health claim for prevention of peanut allergy in infants
A previous NIH-funded study found most high-risk infants who were introduced to peanut protein early in life did not develop the allergy by the time they turned five years old. Photo by HandmadePictures/Shutterstock

Sept. 7 (UPI) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said today that it will recognize the National Institutes of Health qualified health claim regarding peanut allergies and their prevention in high-risk infants.

The prevalence of peanut allergy has more than doubled in children from 1997 to 2008, and roughly 2 percent of children in the United States have a peanut allergy, but NIH research suggests the slow introduction of peanut proteins to high-risk infants may prevent the allergy from developing.

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The FDA announcement means food labels will include advice about introducing peanuts to their children's diets, in addition to warning about the potential contamination of food with peanuts that packages now include.

"As the science governing allergies and diets continues to evolve, so do expert recommendations around how best to safely introduce babies and children to various foods," FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, said in a press release.

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"Perhaps one of the most challenging decisions for parents of my generation is when and how to introduce foods that pose a potential for a significant allergic reaction. These decisions are made more difficult as the prevalence of certain food allergies appear to be on the rise."

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In response to the increase in cases of peanut allergy, doctors have for years advised parents not to introduce foods containing peanuts to children under the age of 3 who were at high risk for developing a peanut allergy due to severe eczema or egg allergy.

In 2016, however, the NIH sponsored Learning Early About Peanut Allergy, or LEAP, trial found infants who consumed 2 grams of peanut protein three times per week led to an 81 percent reduction in the development of peanut allergy.

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The results of the trial led the NIH to issuing new guidelines recommending that parents of infants with severe eczema, egg allergy or both, who are at high risk of developing a peanut allergy introduce foods containing peanuts into a child's diet as early as 4-6 months of age.

The guidelines caution parents to check with their child's doctor or healthcare provider before feeding them any foods containing peanuts to determine whether an allergy test is needed, and advise to never feed whole peanuts to young children because they are a choking hazard.

"Along with the information that you currently see on food labels, which disclose when a food contains peanuts or peanut residue, the new advice about the early introduction to peanuts and reduced risk of developing peanut allergy will soon be found on the labels of some foods containing ground peanuts that are suitable for infant consumption," Gottlieb said.

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