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New Pediatric Food Allergy Prevention Program takes novel approach

This summer Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital (YNHCH) will launch its Pediatric Food Allergy Prevention Program, the first of its kind in the state, to help families reduce the odds that their young children will develop food allergies.

Nearly six million children and 26 million adults nationwide have food allergies, and accidental ingestions result in 9,500 hospitalizations a year. Research suggests that careful, early introduction of allergens reduces the chance a child will develop a lifelong allergy.

Developed by Stephanie Leeds, MD, and Julie Flom, MD, both YNHCH pediatric allergist/immunologists, the program takes a proactive approach, starting as young as 4 months of age. This change from past guidance, which advocated avoiding allergens and starting treatment at around age 5, was inspired by robust evidence indicating that introducing allergens in the first year of life provides the greatest opportunity to reduce development of food allergies.

“Guidance on managing food allergies has changed dramatically over the past few years. It is important that caregivers have early access to accurate information about prevention initiatives that can significantly impact their child’s future,” said Dr. Leeds.

“The best window to introduce allergenic foods is from about 4 to 12 months,” said Dr. Flom. “Early introduction of food allergens for infants is possible even if other household members have food allergies.”

As part of the program, dietitians specializing in food allergies ensure families are equipped to introduce these foods in an age-appropriate manner and provide a personalized plan to incorporate the foods and keep them in the diet while meeting the child’s nutritional needs.


Nine Major Food Allergens


“The goal with every child is a fun and colorful diet that takes culture into consideration,” said Julia Munoz, RD, a clinical dietitian specializing in food allergies. “Many families can accomplish this at home by introducing the top nine allergens one at a time and monitoring for a reaction. Typically, if there is an initial reaction, the first one is mild, but a signal that should be noted.”

While allergy tests can be a useful tool in a clinical setting, the results require the expertise of specialists to interpret because there can be false positives. On the other hand, the heavily marketed at-home food sensitivity tests are not backed by any evidence to diagnose a food allergy. The best test is what happens when a child eats the food.

“Food allergies can impact everyday activities like going to the playground or even what daycare options are available,” said Dr. Leeds. “That’s why it’s best to see a specialist if a family has concerns.”