12 January - 20 June 2016

Feeding babies egg and peanut may reduce their risk of developing an allergy to the foods

A systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies and intervention trials published in the journal JAMA has assessed the effects of early exposure to allergenic foods.

A systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies and intervention trials published in the journal JAMA has assessed the effects of early exposure to allergenic foods.

The scientists from Imperial College London, included 148 eligible studies, involving more than 200,000 children.  Intervention trials and observational studies that evaluated timing of allergenic food introduction during the first year of life and reported allergic or autoimmune disease or allergic sensitisation were included.  The scientists initially analysed 16,289 research papers on allergies and other immune system problems. Out of these, 146 were used for data analysis of when to feed babies allergenic foods such as egg, peanut, wheat and fish. Five studies (involving 1915 children) were used to estimate reduced risk of egg allergy, and two studies (involving 1550 children) were used to estimate reduced risk of peanut allergy.

The findings suggest feeding children egg between the ages of four and six months may reduce their risk of developing egg allergy by 40%.  The study, which was commissioned by the UK Food Standards Agency, also found feeding children peanut, between the ages of four and eleven months, may reduce risk of developing peanut allergy by 70%.  However, the authors cautioned that these percentages are estimates based on a small number of studies. In addition, the team analysed milk, fish (including shellfish), tree nuts (such as almonds) and wheat, but didn't find enough evidence to show introducing these foods at a young age reduces allergy risk. 

The team also calculated absolute risk reduction. They found that in a population where 5.4 per cent of people have egg allergy (the UK prevalence rate from one recent study), introducing egg between four and six months of age could prevent 24 cases of egg allergy per 1,000 people.  For peanut, in a population where 2.5 per cent of people have peanut allergy, introducing the food between four and eleven months could prevent 18 cases per 1,000 people. 

Commenting on the findings, the UK Food Standards Agency said: "Imperial College London has produced a high quality review. The Government is considering these important findings as part of its review of complementary feeding for infants to ensure its advice reflects the best available evidence.  Families should continue to follow the Government's current long-standing advice to exclusively breastfeed for around the first six months of age because of the health benefits to mothers and babies. "

RSSL are industry experts in allergens, and provide a comprehensive range of testing, training and food allergen consultancy services to help you control and manage allergens within manufacturing and retailing.  For more information please contact Customer Services on +44 (0) 118 918 4076 or email enquiries@rssl.com.

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