US health authorities recommended Thursday feeding infants foods containing peanuts as a way to prevent an allergy to them.
The guidelines were issued by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) on the basis of a clinical study sponsored by the same organization.
The study showed that eating peanut-containing foods from the age of four months to five years reduces by 81 percent the risk of peanut allergy among infants deemed at high risk because they already had severe eczema, egg allergy or both.
The NIAID, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, said that peanut allergy is a growing public health problem for which there is no treatment.
The allergy generally develops in childhood and persists through adulthood. The allergic reactions can be severe and life-threatening.
Around two percent of children in America have a peanut allergy, according to a 2010 study. That is four times more than in 1999.
“Living with peanut allergy requires constant vigilance. Preventing the development of peanut allergy will improve and save lives and lower health care costs,” said NIAID director Anthony Fauci.
“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,” Fauci said.
Under the new guidelines, peanuts should be introduced into the diets of high-risk infants between the ages of four and six months.
For infants with mild or moderate risk of developing peanut allergy, the timeframe is about six months of age. There is no timeframe for infants without eczema or any food allergy.
All infants should begin eating solid foods before peanuts are introduced.
The new approach was welcomed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Seventeen years ago, it published recommendations that children should not be fed peanuts before age three.