Allergy Alert: How Digital Health Is Driving Adoption of New Guidelines to Prevent Food Allergies Among Children
Food allergies among children are rising dramatically. There are many causes for the growing prevalence in the United States, including Vitamin D insufficiency, decreased exposure to germs and allergens, and food allergen avoidance. In total, food allergies now affect as many as 8 percent of children in the U.S. Unfortunately, there is no cure for food allergies, which can be severe and potentially life-threatening.
Food allergies, like many health conditions, also disproportionately impact lower income families and communities. Once burdened with allergies, these individuals must overcome barriers to receive adequate treatment.
Fortunately, food allergies are highly-preventable, if we act earlier to prevent them.
“Babies don’t have to develop food allergies,” said Dr. Andrew Leitner, co-founder of Ready. Set. Food!, a leader in all-natural, organic early allergen introduction. “Evidence-based research, USDA guidelines and leading allergists all agree: introducing small amounts of allergens early and often is the best way to help a child have a greater chance at a future of food freedom.”
To address the rise in food allergies, recent research, including the landmark Learning Early About Peanut (LEAP) study, has established that parents can prevent food allergies by introducing allergens early and often. These breakthrough findings have paved the way for new guidelines across leading health and medical organizations recommending that every parent should introduce common allergenic foods starting as early as 4 months of age.
With the latest science in hand, the work ahead involves empowering parents to follow these guidelines at home and encouraging pediatricians to proactively use the guidelines with patients. To that end, Wildflower and Ready, Set, Food! recently launched a pilot program with Providence to provide parents with early allergen introduction resources.
The initiative is driven by Wildflower’s digital platform, which already delivers personalized support, education and resources to Providence patients. Wildflower has now embedded food allergy education, recommendations and guidance from Ready, Set, Food!’s team of leading pediatricians and allergists to ensure new parents are informed on early allergen introduction and equipped with the right questions to ask their providers.
“We are always looking for innovative partnerships that help us support our patients at critical stages in their health,” said William A. Conrad, MD, Chief Medical Officer from Providence Southbay Ministries “By combining Wildflower’s platform with expert content and guidance from Ready, Set, Food!, we can reach many families and positively impact the health of their children.”
The science backing the new recommendations is clear. Diet diversity and direct exposure to allergens early in childhood can lower risk, regardless of the root causes driving the growth of allergies. And while these recommendations run counter to what has become common practice among pediatricians in recent years – delaying exposure to allergens - it isn’t an seismic shift in best practice.
“We’re not necessarily unwinding long-held beliefs, but rather we’re getting back to the way it worked before,” Dr. Leitner said. “The shift away from complementary feeding and introducing foods in infancy really only happened in just the last few decades.”
Like many scientific advances in healthcare, adoption of the new guidelines has been slow to take hold. Physicians are already over-committed during brief well visits, and patients aren’t aware of the questions they should be asking when it comes to food allergies. And then there is the question of whether physicians have been fully educated about the changes.
“It would be ideal if every doctor across the country was already up to speed and implementing the new guidelines, but the reality is that only 30 percent of pediatricians are currently incorporating them into their practices,” Dr. Leitner said. “There is still not enough education taking place to ensure these guidelines are simplified and adopted.
Ultimately, the rise of food allergies is a problem that can be easily addressed. Allergy prevention creates a win-win scenario. It positively impacts the lives of children and their families while generating cost savings for the entire healthcare system. Conversely, the less preventive work we do, the more we will see increases in acute therapy, including emergency room visits, for allergy-related conditions.
“The opportunity here is clear, and we are committed to responding positively to it,” said Dr. Conrad. “Our work in this area is a great example of how digital technology can enhance the patient-physician relationship and create an environment where the right information is being discussed at the right time for optimal care.”