Researchers are challenging old advice that suggested parents keep peanuts away from young children who were at high risk of developing a peanut allergy.
A study published Monday in the New England Journal of Medicine said regularly exposing those kids to peanuts at an early age may actually prevent them from ever developing an allergy.
Researchers in Britain looked at a group of 640 children between four and 11 months old who had egg allergies or the skin condition eczema that can often be indicators of a peanut allergy risk.
Half of the kids were routinely given peanuts, while the others strictly avoided them. By age five, fewer than 1 percent of the kids who had peanuts had become allergic, while 17 percent of the kids who did not eat peanuts had developed an allergy.
Specialists stressed that while the kids were at a risk of being allergic, each was tested before the study to be sure they did not already have the allergy before any were given peanuts. They advised parents to have babies checked with a skin test before introducing peanuts into their diet.
Peanut allergies have doubled in the United States and Britain during the past 10 years and have also risen in Asia and Africa.
The allergy can develop early in life, and unlike with other allergies, people often do not outgrow it. Reactions can be severe and even fatal.