Wean babies ‘sooner to prevent allergy epidemic’

We could be creating a food allergy epidemic because we are not weaning babies on to allergens sooner, according to a leading paediatric allergy specialist.

Public Health England's advice urges the introduction of peanuts and other allergens from around six months but Gideon Lack, professor of paediatric allergy at Kings College London, says that could be two months too late.

"Food allergy is a growing issue, it has become a big issue, I would say to use the word 'epidemic' would not be inappropriate."

Each year, 64,000 new cases emerge of children with food allergies.

From peanuts to cheese, the issue is growing. Two per cent of babies born in the UK will have a serious peanut allergy by the age of three, and nearly one in 10 will be vulnerable to an anaphylactic food allergy.

Professor Lack is advocating for a strategy he believes reduces these figures. In a 2015 study, he urged health policies to consider weaning babies on to allergen foods from four months.

"Six months is certainly too late for egg allergy – the majority of which develops between four and six months of age," he said.

"If we are to prevent an egg allergy and a substantial proportion of peanut allergy, we need to intervene earlier."

Image: Nathalie Newman has to check all food before feeding it to her son Callum

New national health guidelines in North America advocate peanut be considered as early as four months in high risk children with severe eczema. Australia and some European countries have also adopted the strategy.

Callum Newman, seven, suffers from 28 food allergies – eight of them anaphylactic.

His mother Nathalie said she is so vigilant over which foods are safe for her son that her investigative skills would put the FBI to shame.

She said: "All labels need to be checked, in case manufacturing methods change.

"And when eating out, making sure the right questions are asked to ensure food is safe and cross contamination isn't a problem."

The recent case of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, 15, who died from an allergic reaction after eating a Pret a Manger sandwich on a flight, highlighted the terrible consequences of eating the wrong thing.

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"Some food allergies are there to stay for life and any of them can cause life-threatening reactions, or even very unfortunately in some cases fatalities due to anaphylaxis," said Prof Lack.

"This is a very big burden of disease and a serious burden on the population."

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