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January, 18, 2017

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Peanuts in baby's diet can prevent scary allergy

WASHINGTON--New parents, get ready to feed your babies peanut-containing foods — starting young lowers their chances of becoming allergic.

The National Institutes of Health issued new guidelines Thursday saying most babies should regularly eat those foods starting around 6 months of age, some as early as 4 months. It's a major shift in dietary advice for a country fearful of one of the most dangerous food allergies.

"We're on the cusp of hopefully being able to prevent a large number of cases of peanut allergy," said Dr. Matthew Greenhawt of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, a member of the NIH-appointed panel that wrote the guidelines.

The recommendations are based on landmark research that found early exposure is far more likely to protect babies from developing peanut allergies than to harm them. The guidelines spell out exactly how to introduce infants to age-appropriate peanut products depending on whether they're at high, moderate or low risk of becoming allergic as they grow.

Babies at high risk — because they have a severe form of the skin rash eczema or egg allergies — need a check-up before any peanut exposure, and might get their first taste in the doctor's office.

For other tots, most parents can start adding peanut-containing foods to the diet much like they already introduced oatmeal or mushed peas.

No, babies don't get whole peanuts or a big glob of peanut butter — those are choking hazards. Instead, the guidelines include options like watered-down peanut butter or easy-to-gum peanut-flavored "puff" snacks.

"It's an important step forward," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which appointed experts to turn the research findings into user-friendly guidelines. "When you do desensitize them from an early age, you have a very positive effect."

Peanut allergy is a growing problem, affecting about 2 percent of U.S. children who must avoid the wide array of peanut-containing foods or risk severe, even life-threatening, reactions.

For years, pediatricians advised avoiding peanuts until age 3 for children thought to be at risk. But the delay didn't help, and that recommendation was dropped in 2008, although parent wariness of peanuts persists.

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