A government funded study of hundreds of households revealed babies are more likely to develop a peanut allergy if the popular snack is eaten regularly at home.
Interestingly, the link applied not to nuts eaten by children themselves, but to those eaten by family members.
The study, carried out at Imperial College London, suggests that the greater a child’s exposure to peanuts in the first months of life, the higher their chances of developing an allergy, with even peanut butter causing harm.
Earlier this year, the House of Lords science and technology committee heard that rates of the allergy are low or non-existent in countries where peanuts form an important part of a baby’s diet. It is argued that early exposure allows the body to develop a tolerance to the food.
It is thought that oil and dust from nuts eaten by relatives enters a child’s body through the skin or nose, disrupting its immune system and leading to an allergic reaction the first time the youngster eats peanuts itself.
The FSA said: “These results suggest that higher environmental exposure to peanuts in early life in families of those children who went on to develop peanut allergy may have promoted the development of peanut allergy.”
He added that current Government advice, which states that women with a family history of allergy should avoid peanuts during pregnancy and breastfeeding, was still relevant.
In Britain, many parents keep their children’s diet peanut-free and the allergy is on the rise, affecting more than one in 70 children – twice as many as ten years ago.