Peanut allergies are the most common food allergy in children, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). They estimate that the number of kids allergic to peanuts in the U.S. ranges from 1.5 to 2.5 million.

It's also true that the condition is on the rise — and it can be life-threatening, so of course parents are concerned. But continuing research offers hope that there are ways to reduce a child's chances of developing a peanut allergy.

Regular, early peanut consumption reduced the risk of peanut allergy in adolescence by 71 percent, compared to kids with early peanut avoidance.

Exposure appears to make a big difference. Learning Early About Peanut Allergy, or LEAP, is a program sponsored by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAD) and overseen by doctors. Its latest study to look at whether early exposure to peanuts protected kids well into adolescence was built on the results of previous LEAP studies.

The initial LEAP study was published in 2015. It followed approximately 600 kids for more than four years to determine when to introduce peanuts to children at high risk for food allergies. It found that compared to those kids who avoided peanuts, children fed peanut products regularly from infancy to the age of five had an 81 percent reduced risk of developing a peanut allergy by age 5.

The question that remained was whether the protection gained from early consumption of peanut products would last into adolescence even if the children choose to eat peanut products in whatever amount and frequency they desire. Researchers designed the latest study called LEAP-Trio to test this.

There was one exception: Those kids who were allergic to peanuts at age 6 were advised to continue avoiding peanut product.

The LEAP-Trio research team assessed the adolescent participants for peanut allergy primarily through an oral food challenge. This involved giving participants gradually increasing amounts of peanut in a carefully controlled setting to determine if they could safely consume at least 5 grams of peanut which is the equivalent of more than 20 peanuts.

Only 15.4 percent of participants from the earlier childhood peanut avoidance group and 4.4 percent from the early childhood peanut-consumption group had peanut allergies at age 12 or older, the investigators found. Regular, early peanut consumption reduced the risk of peanut allergy in adolescence by 71 percent compared to those with early peanut avoidance.

“Today's finding should reinforce parents' and caregivers' confidence that feeding their young children peanut products beginning in infancy according to established guidelines can provide lasting protection from peanut allergy,” NIAID Director, Jeanne Marrazzo, M.D., M.P.H., said in a press release. “If widely implemented, this safe, simple strategy could prevent tens of thousands of cases of peanut allergy among the 3.6 million children born in the United States each year.”

To get detailed advice on how to safely introduce peanut products into an infant's diet, speak with your child's pediatrician. You can also consult the Addendum Guidelines for the Prevention of Peanut Allergy in the United States.

The study is published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).