Can we prevent food allergies by giving young babies small amounts of the foods that cause them?
Published on 10 April 2017
Around six per cent of children in the UK will develop food allergies.1-3 Professor Gideon Lack, of King’s College London, has previously led groundbreaking research that suggests giving babies small amounts of foods that commonly cause allergies cuts their chances of developing food allergies in the first few years of life. In this new project, Professor Lack aims to find out whether children continue to benefit in this way as they grow older. His findings could lead to new public health advice on weaning, with the aim of stopping so many children from developing food allergies.
How are children’s lives affected now?
Rates of food allergies have risen sharply over the last 20 years and no-one knows why.1 Estimates suggest that 240 – 550 million people may have a food allergy worldwide.4
Children tend to have symptoms within seconds or minutes of eating a food that they are allergic to. For example, they may develop an itchy red rash, stomach cramps, feel sick, dizzy or short of breath, and their eyes, lips tongue or mouth may swell up. A severe allergic reaction can be life-threatening.
The best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid the food that causes it. “Avoiding specific foods can be both stressful and costly for families,” says Professor Lack. “Food allergies cause a lot of worry for affected families and may result unnecessarily in children missing out on parties and other social or educational activities.”
We need safe and effective ways to stop so many children from developing food allergies.
How could this research help?
The researchers’ ultimate goal is to find ways to prevent food allergies in children.
The team has already made an exciting discovery in earlier studies, while researching the effects of six foods – milk, eggs, wheat, cod, peanuts and sesame – that young children are often allergic to. “In our previous work, we found that the early introduction of specific foods, known to cause allergies, to babies’ diets was a successful strategy in the prevention of food allergies at the age of three years,” says Professor Lack. “However, our earlier work did not tell us whether this continued into later childhood.”
In this current project, the researchers aim to find out whether the benefits of introducing those foods early continue over the longer term, by studying the children again when they reach eight years of age.
“We hope our work will one day help to prevent food allergies by providing evidence on the best time to introduce six foods that commonly cause allergies into babies’ diets,” says Professor Lack.
1. EAT Enquiring about tolerance Welcome page http://www.eatstudy.co.uk/ Website accessed 8 February 2016.
2. Venter C, et al. Prevalence and cumulative incidence of food hyper-sensitivity in the first 10 years of life. Pediatr Allergy Immunol 2016: 27; 452–8.
3. NHS Choices. Food Allergy. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/food-allergy/Pages/Intro1.aspx Website accessed 9 January 2017.
4. World Allergy Organization (WAO). WAO White Book on Allergy. Executive Summary. http://www.worldallergy.org/UserFiles/file/ExecSummary-2013-v6-hires.pdf Website accessed 9 January 2017.
|Project Leader||Professor Gideon Lack MB MCh|
|Location||Department of Paediatric Allergy, King's College London|
|Grant awarded||21 November 2016|
|Provisional start date||1 June 2017|
|Provisional end date||31 May 2020|
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