Although the incidence of food allergy is increasing around the world, Australia is near the top of the global leaderboard when it comes to allergies, with around one in five Australians having at least one allergy.
So it is only natural that parents of new babies are a little hesitant when introducing foods like peanuts, egg and seafood* to their diet when these are known to cause allergic reaction in some young children. There have even been some reports in the media of parents parking outside medical centres when introducing some of these foods into their baby's diet for the first time, should anything go awry.
However, the statistics indicate that, despite Australia having a generally high prevalence of allergy, the likelihood of a baby having an allergy is in fact reasonably low. The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) estimates that an allergy to eggs affects one in ten children under 12 months of age and an allergy to peanuts affects around three in a hundred children under 12 months.
Some very recent research findings have prompted the ASCIA to modify their advice to parents on allergy. Rather than avoid high allergy risk foods, the ASCIA is now recommending that all babies be introduced to eggs and peanuts (in the form of peanut butter) between the ages of 4-12 months, even where the child is at high risk of an allergic reaction.
The research study, dubbed 'HealthNuts', involved 640 children between 4 and 11 months of age, all of whom had either severe eczema or an allergy to eggs, or both. One group was asked to avoid consuming food containing peanuts and the other to actively consume food containing peanuts. The trial ran until the participants' fifth birthdays, at which point a peanut 'oral food challenge' was staged. The results showed that 13.7% of those children who had avoided food containing peanuts had a peanut allergy, as against only 1.9% of children in the group that consumed food containing peanuts.
In addition, ASCIA have also changed their advice on the use of hydrolysed baby formula**. Previously advising the use of this as a 'hypo allergenic' alternative to regular cow’s milk formula, the group is no longer recommending use of this type of formula to prevent the development of allergies.
Any parents who are worried about possible allergic reactions should always speak to their doctor for advice on how to introduce these foods into their baby's diet.
*the commonest food allergies in Australia are to…
- Cow’s milk.
- Tree nuts.
**hydrolysed formula is still based on cow's milk but has been treated to break down the protein in the milk, which is what often causes the reaction.