Statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., on a new qualified health claim advising that early introduction of peanuts to certain high-risk infants may reduce risk of peanut allergy
As the incidence of peanut allergy grew, along with an awareness of the consequences, doctors began advising parents not to introduce peanut-containing foods to children under the age of three who were at high risk for peanut allergy. While this advice was well intended, new evidence-based guidelines recommend that the medical community consider a different approach. A recent landmark clinical trial funded by the National Institutes of Health found that introducing foods containing smooth peanut butter to babies as early as 4 months of age who are at high risk of developing a peanut allergy -- due to severe eczema or egg allergy or both -- reduces their risk of developing peanut allergy later in childhood by about 80 percent. That finding led the NIH to issue new guidelines in January, recommending that parents of infants with severe eczema, egg allergy, or both introduce peanut-containing foods into a child’s diet as early as 4 to 6 months of age. The guidelines advise parents to check with their infant’s healthcare provider before feeding their baby peanut-containing foods in order to determine whether an allergy test is needed first and whether feeding should be done under a doctor’s supervision.
Along with the information that you currently see on food labels, which disclose when a food contains peanuts or peanut residue, the new advice about the early introduction to peanuts and reduced risk of developing peanut allergy will soon be found on the labels of some foods containing ground peanuts that are suitable for infant consumption. Whole peanuts, on the other hand, are a choking hazard for young children and should not be consumed. Recognizing the importance of science-based food decisions, the FDA has responded to a petition for a new qualified health claim that states “for most infants with severe eczema and/or egg allergy who are already eating solid foods, introducing foods containing ground peanuts between 4 and 10 months of age and continuing consumption may reduce the risk of developing peanut allergy by 5 years of age.” This is the first time the FDA has recognized a qualified health claim to prevent a food allergy. Our goal is to make sure parents are abreast of the latest science and can make informed decisions about how they choose to approach these challenging issues.
The new claim on food labels will recommend that parents check with their infant’s healthcare provider before introducing foods containing ground peanuts. It will also note that the claim is based on one study. The FDA will continue to monitor the research related to peanut allergy. If new scientific information further informs what we know about peanut allergy, the FDA will evaluate whether the claim should be updated.
We know that there’s more to learn about food allergies. The more we learn, the better we can consider how best to introduce allergenic foods, as well as prevent and treat food allergies. We need to continue to invest in the science related to our diets. The FDA remains committed to advancing and supporting research and innovations that help lower the rate of food allergies and better protect the public health.