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Cracking the Peanut Allergy - USDA Program Provides Doctors a Way to Help Children

Posted by Carl Purvis, Agricultural Marketing Service in Research and Science
Sep 27, 2017
A person holding peanuts
People living with a serious peanut allergy must be on guard everywhere, from planes to the playground. The latest research-based recommendations aim to reduce peanut allergies. Photo: cyclonebill / Creative Commons

Doctors and scientists have discovered a way to reduce the chances of children developing a common and sometimes deadly allergy. Recent studies have found that peanut allergies can be prevented in a high percentage of cases by introducing children to peanut-containing foods while they are still infants.

The revelation was made possible, in part, thanks to the resources provided by the National Peanut Board (NPB), an industry-funded board, established through a research, promotion and information program at the request of peanut producers. The program is overseen by the Promotion and Economics Division of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, Specialty Crops Program.

With a focus on promoting U.S. grown peanuts, NPB members recognized the increased reporting of peanut allergies among American children, and realized they needed to be part of the solution. The board helped to fund a study called Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) that was conducted by researchers at the United Kingdom’s Kings College London.

The results of the study were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. In the study, up to 86 percent of the infants with a high risk (those with severe eczema, egg allergy, or both) for developing a peanut allergy who ate peanut foods between the ages of 4 and 11 months developed a protective factor that reduced their risk of having the allergy.

To be sure that this protection was long-term and did not simply delay the start of peanut allergies, the researchers conducted a follow-on study. The second study was called LEAP-On. During LEAP-On, the children from the LEAP study who were exposed to peanut foods at an early age were not given peanut foods for 12 months. Researchers found that the protection was indeed long-lasting.

In 2008, NPB provided funding to help initiate the early research published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology that led to the groundbreaking LEAP study and NPB continues to support this work. This research has contributed to the American Academy of Pediatrics recommending early introduction of peanut protein for infants who are at increased risk of developing the allergy. In January, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases released guidelines for practitioners and caregivers that details when and how to introduce peanut foods safely to prevent peanut allergies. More recently, the FDA acknowledged a qualified health claim linking early peanut introduction and reduced risk of developing peanut allergies.

The collaboration between the board and researchers at the Kings College London is a great example of how USDA research and promotion boards can make a difference for people everywhere. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health in a news release about the new guidelines, NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. said “We expect that widespread implementation of these guidelines by health care providers will prevent the development of peanut allergy in many susceptible children and ultimately reduce the prevalence of peanut allergy in the United States.”

With this in mind, NPB continues to promote the new guidelines and recommendations for early introduction by educating health professionals, working with influencers, and reaching out to consumers directly.

Parents should always consult with their child’s pediatrician to determine the best course of action for treatment of allergies.

Category/Topic: Research and Science