Peanut advice may be revised

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The food watchdog is to write to ministers recommending changes to Government advice for young children and pregnant women to avoid eating peanuts.

The board of the Food Standards Agency is taking the action in responseto a review of published scientific evidence on exposure to peanuts bythe independent Committee on Toxicity. This suggests that previousrecommendations are no longer supported by evidence.

Last year's report by the all-party House of Lords Science andTechnology committee found a lower incidence of peanut allergies incountries where babies are exposed to nuts (News, 27 September2007).

Until now the advice has been that where there is a family history ofallergy, children under the age of three, pregnant women or those whoare breastfeeding should avoid eating peanuts because of the higher riskof allergy.

A study published last week by Professor Nicholas Christakis of HarvardMedical School in the US said that parents' fears about nut allergieswere reaching epidemic proportions. It said the situation was made worseby measures to reduce children's exposure to nuts as it caused increasedsensitisation.

Professor Christakis cited the example of a school bus that wasevacuated and decontaminated after a peanut was found on the floor,while some schools were declaring themeselves 'nut free'.

However, Professor Gideon Lack, head of children's allergy at Guy's andSt Thomas' Hospital in London, who is leading the Learning Early aboutPeanut Allergy (LEAP), study, said, 'Dr Christakis' report is anover-reaction to an over-reaction. It's wrong and not helpful. Familieswith children with peanut allergies need to find the right balance afterspeaking to allergy specialists and dieticians.'

The LEAP study is tracking children over five years to assess whetheravoidance or consumption is the best approach to peanut allergy.

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