Kids munch peanuts in the name of science

By Catherine Boal

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food allergy Allergy

A major trial into the prevention of peanut allergies among
children has begun in the UK as part of a study that could result
in a new, younger generation of nut product consumers.

The research, carried out by King's College London, will examine whether exposing children to nuts in childhood reduces the risk of developing a nut allergy.

Figures from flavour ingredients firm Quest show that 20 per cent of all products launched in the fine bakery sector contain nuts, ruling out a whole range of foods for people who have an allergy to nuts.

This has led the snack sector to explore alternatives such as nut-free flavourings - a Totally Nuts range of nut-free flavours was launched by Quest earlier this year to simulate the taste of hazelnuts, peanuts, almonds and others.

It is hoped the £5m (€7.4m) study will open up the possibility of new markets and address confusion in scientific circles over whether or not children should be consuming nut snacks from an early age.

Professor Gideon Lack of the Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma department at King's College said: "Recent evidence suggests that children who eat peanut snacks early in life may in fact be protected against peanut allergy, in contrast with previous studies which have suggested the opposite."

The study will test 480 children between the ages of four and 11 months who already have eczema or egg allergy and therefore are considered to be at a high risk of developing peanut allergy.

Half of the children will be given a peanut-based snack regularly from four months of age while the control group will avoid the nut entirely. Both groups will be tested at the age of five.

Peanut allergy has doubled in the past 10 years in the UK and affects 1 in 70 primary schoolchildren in the UK as well as the US.

Since November 2005, European manufacturers have been bound by labeling legislation to declare the presence of peanuts in pre-packed products.

The UK Department of Health advises women, those who are breast-feeding and children under the age of three not to eat nut products.

Professor Lack said: "Our study findings may result in a change in public health policy to prevent food allergies."

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