The EAT Study aimed to prove early allergen introduction could work with all allergens and all babies.
It did this by addressing two huge problems with the LEAP study.
First, the LEAP Study only looked at peanut, but babies develop allergies to many different foods. Second, the LEAP study focused on “high risk” infants, but <1% of infants are considered high risk.
What about everyone else?
Enquiring About Tolerance (EAT)
The Enquiring About Tolerance (EAT) Study proved that feeding babies 6 allergenic foods (milk, peanut, sesame, fish, egg, wheat) from 3 months old, along with continued breastfeeding, could reduce the number of children who developed food allergies by three years old.
The EAT Study gave the green light to parents to start introducing foods beyond peanut, with the caveat that early introduction only works if the baby gets enough protein, and is fed the protein regularly.
How did the EAT Study work?
Researchers in the United Kingdom recruited breastfed infants that represented the general population. This means they were a mix of genders and race, and had mixed family histories of allergic disease. The infants were randomly split into two groups. The babies were then tested to make sure they didn’t already have a food allergy.
The Standard Introduction Group was asked to exclusively breastfeed until 6 months old, and could wait to introduce allergens until whenever they wanted.
The Early Introduction Group was asked to introduce six allergenic foods from the age of 3 months. Parents were asked to start with cows’ milk yogurt, then add fish, egg, milk, sesame and peanut, and lastly wheat, adding 2 new foods per week. Each food had to be fed at least 2 times a week, and each serving needed to include >1g of that protein.
All of the babies met with their pediatricians regularly, and if any allergy-like symptoms developed, they were tested for a food allergies
EAT Study Results
Overall, the EAT study showed that early introduction of allergenic proteins in sufficient quantities from 3 months of age could prevent most food allergies from developing in children.
The comparison between babies who “followed the protocol” (they ate the right amount of protein frequently enough) and babies who did not proves early introduction is protective against food allergies when done correctly.
Some of the other major learnings of the EAT Study were that:
- Early introduction of allergens was safe and did not cause mothers to breastfeed less.
- Babies who ate enough of each protein were less likely to develop a food allergy, but babies who did not eat enough of each protein did not get the same protection against food allergies.
- Nut allergies were the most likely to be prevented, followed by egg allergies. There was not a significant benefit to milk, wheat, fish, and sesame introduction.
- Family history of allergic disease did seem to increase the risk of developing food allergies.
What does this mean for new parents?
The EAT study proves that parents have nothing to fear by starting early allergen introduction. It won’t harm your baby, and adding nuts and egg proteins to your baby’s food won’t stop them from breastfeeding. Most importantly, if you feed them the right amounts, and keep it up, you can prevent most food allergies.