child drinking milkKids introduced to products like cow's milk products before age one less likely to develop sensitization.Photo courtesy of the American Thoracic SocietyATS 2016, SAN FRANCISCO - Children who had a diet that included cow’s milk products, egg, and peanut before age one were less likely to develop sensitization to the corresponding foods, according to new research presented at the American Thoracic Society  (ATS) 2016 International Conference. Early introduction of eggs appeared to be especially beneficial, as it decreased the risk of sensitization to any of the three tested foods.

The Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) Study, directed by Malcolm Sears, MB, ChB, professor in the Department of Medicine at McMaster University, is believed to be “the first to determine the effects of timing of food introduction to cow's milk products, egg, and peanut, on food sensitization at age one in a general population-based cohort,” said lead investigator Maxwell Tran, a research student at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Most previous studies focused on one specific food type, studied outcomes in later childhood or studied high-risk groups.

The study included data from 1,421 children. Most parents in the study introduced cow’s milk products, which encompass cow’s milk-based formula, to their infants before age one: 0-6 months 48 percent, 7-12 months 48 percent and ≥12 months 4 percent. The majority of parents, however, delayed introducing eggs to their children: 0-6 months 6 percent, 7-12 months 76 percent and ≥12 months 19 percent.

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“The clinical implications of our findings are that early introduction of allergenic foods (egg, cow’s milk products, and peanut) before age one should be encouraged and is better than food avoidance for reducing the risk of food sensitization,” said Mr. Tran. “Sensitization is not the same as allergy, but it is an important step on the pathway.”

The results of the CHILD study reinforce a shift in thinking from delayed food introduction to earlier food introduction for allergy prevention. “Many guidelines around the world are now reflecting this shift, with the recommendation of food introduction before 6 months of age,” said Mr. Tran.

This phase of the study involved one-year-old children. However, the CHILD study is well-positioned to investigate infant feeding practices in relation to allergic diseases up to age five and possibly beyond that.