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Study: Exposing Kids To Peanuts Early May Prevent Allergies

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- An exciting development has unfolded for families dealing with peanut allergies.

As CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reported, peanut allergies have more than quadrupled in the past 13 years, and doctors and parents have reasoned that we should, and must, avoid feeding peanuts to infants so they do not develop the allergies to the legumes.

But it turns out that might be the very opposite of what we should be doing.

Evan Woollen had high chances of developing a peanut allergy as a young child, because he already had other allergies.

"He had serious eczema. He had an egg allergy," said his mother Kerry Christopher.

When Evan was 11 months old, his mother enrolled him in a study at King's College London that involved more than 600 babies at high risk for peanut allergies. The infants were assigned to eat peanut protein or avoid it.

The New England Journal of Medicine study evaluated the kids at the age of 5, and found introducing peanut early in a baby's diet dramatically decreased the risk of developing a peanut allergy.

"We found that feeding young infants with eczema peanut in the first year of life was associated with a striking reduction in the prevalence of peanut allergy, and seemed to prevent more than 80 percent of cases of peanut allergy," said Dr. Gideon Lack of Kings College London.

The theory is that by exposing kids early on to a wide variety of foods – including peanuts – their developing immune systems learn to accept those foods rather than overreact with an allergy when they eventually do come across peanuts.

"This is the first step for peanut to prove that there is an easy way for pretty much anybody to try and prevent the development of peanut allergies in their kids -- even in a high-risk group," said Dr. Brian Schroer of the Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital.

Dr. Hugh Sampson, of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital, said the landmark study will also change food allergy guidelines.

"I think we will now see the prevalence of peanut allergy in this young population start to drop instead of continuing to increase the way we have seen over the last 10 to 15 years," Sampson said.

And now at the age of 8, Evan never became allergic to peanuts. He can eat whatever he wants.

"My favorite food is peanut butter, which does have a lot of nuts in it," Evan said.

Even children in the study who were at high risk for developing allergies – either because of family history or based on skin tests – were able to avoid developing a peanut allergy.

Allergists said if your baby has not shown any signs or symptoms of peanut, milk or egg allergies, you should feel free to introduce the food to them.

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