DOVER — The prevalence of peanut allergies in recent decades prompted a study, the results of which indicate the medical community erred in the advice given to parents of young children.

As a direct result of the LEAP (Learning Early About Peanut Allergy) study, pediatricians no longer recommend babies and young children avoid peanuts unless there is a specific medical reason to do so. Early indications are that this move is reducing what some in the medical community are calling a peanut allergy epidemic.

It has become commonplace for elementary schools to ban parents from sending peanut products with their child to school. Separate tables can be found in school lunchrooms where the children with a peanut allergy are required to sit, instead of being allowed to mingle with their friends for fear that peanut residue might have found its way into school.

It was probably all, for the most part, unnecessary, the study concludes.

The LEAP study was done by professor Gideon Lack at Kings College in London, under the design of the Immune Tolerance Network. The results were reported to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology in 2015. A follow-up study, LEAP-ON, was reported in 2016.

The LEAP study took 640 children age 11 months to 4 years. Half of the children had age appropriate peanut products introduced into their diet, while the other half ate no peanut products. Of those who did not eat peanuts, 17% developed a peanut allergy, while only 3% of the kids introduced to peanuts developed an allergy.

In the LEAP-ON follow, done 12 months later, 18.6% of the non-peanut eating group developed an allergy while only 4.8% of the second group did.

The study concluded the advice to avoid peanut products was likely incorrect and may have contributed to the rise in peanut allergies.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) indicated the LEAP study showed that introducing peanut products early lowered peanut allergy rates by 81%. They support early introduction of peanut products where appropriate.

“Peanut products can be a safe and healthy part of a young child’s diet,” said Jessica Webb, RD, CLC and state nutrition coordinator for the Department of Health and Human Services. “Recent research suggests that introducing peanut products at a young age can actually play a role in preventing peanut allergies. Parents should ask their pediatrician early on about when and how to introduce new foods, including peanut products. The pediatrician can help parents make the best individualized plan for that child, taking into consideration the child’s health history and any family history of food allergies.”

Dr. Barbara Deuell of Allergy Associates of New Hampshire's Dover office has been following the results of the LEAP study with interest.

“The diagnosis of a peanut allergy is based on IgE (Immuglobin E) reaction,” said Deuell. “IgE is the antibody triggered that sends a message to cells, causing an allergic reaction, or an abnormal immune response. We don’t really understand why it happens, but we know it does.”

Deuell said the LEAP study shows that early elimination of peanut products results in children not developing a tolerance to peanuts.

“The opposite of tolerance is allergy,” said Deuell. “That’s what seemed to happen. So, we stopped feeding such products to kids and ended up with an epidemic of allergic reactions.”

Now, Deuell said the idea has changed completely. Parents are encouraged to begin an early introduction to the products.

“For the first six to nine months, breast feeding remains the best practice,” said Deuell. “Then comes the time when foods like rice cereal are usually introduced, around six to 12 months. Peanuts in age appropriate form, like Bamba snacks, can be started then to see how they are tolerated.”

Bamba snacks can be found at places like Trader Joe’s, Deuell said, adding they are like a peanut puff small children can eat. They were created in Israel and have been fed to small children there since the 1960s, and Israeli kids show a much lower rate of peanut allergy.

“If a child had a severe allergy to eggs, or if they had atopic dermatitis by that age, I would suggest some testing before using peanut products,” said Deuell. “Otherwise, parents can try this at about six months of age.”

Deuell said it is too early to have any definitive statistics about the LEAP study results. But she said the medical community is already seeing a much lower rate of peanut allergies.

“It is much better to prevent an allergy, than to have to treat an allergy,” Deuell said.