Peanut Allergies: Parent Perceptions vs. Research Based Recommendations

Peanut allergies are a real concern for new millennial parents, having grown up with increased awareness about food allergies in their schools and communities. However, in a recent consumer poll conducted by Golin and Tuluna and commissioned by the National Peanut Board, only 44% of millennial parents (ages 18-35), had heard about the newest guidelines for early introduction of peanut foods to prevent peanut allergies. In January, National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) published 2017 Addendum Guidelines for the Prevention of Peanut Allergy in the United States which recommends introducing peanut foods as early as 4-6 months of age, based on risk.

These newest guidelines are based on published results of the Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) study that showed a reduction of up to 86% among high-risk infants who began eating peanut foods between 4-11 months of age. According to a statement by the NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. “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.” And while most parents say they’re likely to follow the new guidelines, they have questions and need more information to be comfortable and confident.

According to Golin and Tuluna’s survey, younger millennial parents rely on pediatricians, while older millennial parents also tend to trust word of mouth, online health blogs, and social media. Healthcare providers are key gatekeepers of information and understanding. Here are some tips from Sherry Coleman Collins, registered dietitian nutritionist and food allergy expert:

  • Although research indicates that early introduction prevents peanut allergy and the vast majority of children will not develop peanut allergy, more than half of parents surveyed believe their child will respond differently. Be ready to explain why the guidelines changed based on new research that shows that early introduction is protective. Your encouragement may help allay parents’ fears and increase the likelihood that they will introduce peanut foods earlier.
  • National Peanut Board has compiled a variety of resources for healthcare providers and parents at PeanutAllergyFacts.org including links to the latest guidelines, infographics and videos featuring easy ways to introduce peanut foods, and Q&A with researchers and pediatric allergists
  • Know the facts yourself. Introduction should begin by around 6 months for most infants. Those at highest risk, including infants with moderate the severe eczema, egg allergy, or both, may require testing before oral introduction, and/or in-office introduction for the first peanut feeding. While it is not necessary for most infants, 49% of parents say they will only introduce peanut-containing foods to their child in the presence of a doctor or healthcare professional. The NIAID has created simple resources including a summary for clinicians and summary for family and caregivers of the research, along with simple instructions for feeding peanut foods to low-risk infants.
  • Give simple instructions for early introduction. Just two teaspoons of peanut butter or powdered peanut butter mixed with two tablespoons of warm formula or breastmilk or into infant cereal or applesauce is a simple and safe way to begin introducing peanut foods. Whole peanuts or large spoonfuls of peanut butter pose a choking hazard for infants and young children.
  • Approach food allergies and early feeding in a positive way while preparing parents for potential food allergy reactions. Remind them that more than 98% of children do not develop peanut allergies. Although unlikely, reactions do happen and may be mild or severe. NIAID provides a helpful overview on their resource for feeding peanut foods to infants.