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TIME’s story on infants and food allergy risks overstates research findings

Rating

2 Star

Categories

Babies Should Eat Eggs and Peanuts Early to Avoid Food Allergies

Our Review Summary

Toddler eating boiled eggThis is a brief story looking at a systematic review of 146 other studies, concluding that there is likely some reduction in risk of allergy to eggs and peanuts if infants get those foods for the first time between 4-6 months, instead of later.

The review lends more evidence to the theory that some allergies can be avoided, paradoxically, by exposing children earlier to the allergen, such as peanuts or eggs. But this is not the final word, and the researchers make that clear in their review, stating, “these systematic review findings should not automatically lead to new recommendations to feed egg and peanut to all infants.”

This viewpoint is missing from the TIME story, which headlined this story with a very conclusive statement: “Babies Should Eat Eggs and Peanuts Early to Avoid Food Allergies.”

 

Why This Matters

Food allergies are common and on the rise in the U.S. Parents deserve more context and some of the caveats behind why the researchers caution against a blanket recommendation.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Cost does not apply to in this example of eating habits. However, the story would have been stronger with some context about how much money is spent on treating child food allergies.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

Even in this short story, we need some metric for measuring the benefit. The story says there was evidence that introducing peanuts earlier to infant diets provided a “risk reduction” of later allergy. How much of a risk reduction? Was the reduction similar between eggs and peanuts?

The journal article itself gives some absolute risk numbers. For egg allergy, the study shows a reduction of 24 cases per 1,000 children. For peanut allergy, the risk is reduced by 18 cases per 1,000 children. But the authors warn that the “certainty of the evidence” was downgraded due to some gray areas in how the studies were done.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

According to the news release, the study authors say that we need “a careful assessment of the safety and acceptability of early egg and peanut introduction in different populations” before rolling this out widely. What are these safety concerns? The story doesn’t say.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The story tells us this was a review of past studies including 146 total. It would have been better to describe the systematic review in more detail, including key limitations. For example, while the reviewers looked at 146 studies, they only had five studies that yielded the evidence for eggs and only two studies that yielded the evidence for peanuts.

And, we think this viewpoint stressed in the study’s discussion section didn’t quite make it into the news story, which it should have:

“These systematic review findings should not automatically lead to new recommendations to feed egg and peanut to all infants.”

As we point out in our summary, this seems in direct conflict with the headline on the story (“Babies Should Eat Eggs and Peanuts Early to Avoid Food Allergies”).

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

There was no disease mongering.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

The story quotes only one scientist, and that is his written comment from an editorial accompanying the study, not an interview.

This source, Dr. Matthew Greenhawt, has a potential conflict of interest that wasn’t disclosed: He’s a member of the scientific advisory council for the National Peanut Board, among other affiliations clearly stated in the study’s editorial.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Applicable

This story does not seem to require comparison of alternatives, since it isn’t about treatments.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The story establishes the novelty of the research here:

“This is relatively new thinking. Not so long ago, in 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that allergenic foods be kept away from infants until they were at least a year old, and often older. ..That advice has been amended, and newer evidence has shown that introducing foods earlier is actually better for preventing food allergies.”

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Not Satisfactory

The story doesn’t offer much beyond the news release, but it doesn’t appear to use verbatim phrases or quotes.

Total Score: 2 of 7 Satisfactory

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