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Nut-Allergic Kids: Nut Mix-up Common

Youngsters Can't Tell One Nut from Another -- Even If Their Lives Depend on It
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

July 28, 2006 -- Kids mix up their nuts -- even kids with potentially life-threatening nut allergies.

Kids age 4-19 are, on average, able to identify only three out of 11 different nuts, find Los Angeles Children's Hospital researcher Ronald M. Ferdman, MD, and USC researcher Joseph A. Church.

Ferdman and Church invented the nut box. It's a clear plastic box with 12 nut samples -- peanuts in the shell, peanuts out of the shell, cashews, pecans, mixed shelled and unshelled pistachios, hazelnuts, slivered almonds, Brazil nuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, pine nuts, and walnuts.

The researchers tested 100 children, 37 of whom had nut allergies. In general, the youngest kids knew the fewest nuts. But older kids didn't do a whole lot better.

Overall, nine out of 10 kids could identify peanuts in the shell. After that, their nut IQ went downhill.

Only half the kids could identify peanuts out of the shell. Almost a third of them could pick out pistachios. Brazil nuts stumped them all -- and only two of the 100 kids knew a hazelnut (or filbert) when they saw it. Twenty-one of the kids thought all the nuts were peanuts.

Kids with nut allergies did much worse. Only one in three kids with nut allergies could identify out-of-the-shell peanuts.

"Many nut-allergic children lack the nut recognition skills that could protect them from future reactions," Ferdman and Church conclude. "The best strategy would incorporate actively teaching the affected child to recognize nuts so that he or she will be protected in every environment regardless of the skill of adult caretakers."

Even so, a lot of the allergic kids had a great strategy of their own. Nearly three-fourths of the kids with nut allergies said they would not eat the nut to which they were allergic -- and half of these kids said they avoided all nuts.

The study appears in the July issue of Annals of Allergy Asthma & Immunology.

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