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Why are children under one not allowed to eat honey?

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Why are children under one not allowed to eat honey?
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French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) have strongly recommended not giving honey to children less than one year old as it could risk  child botulism.  Since 2004, the number of cases of child botulism has increased which is why ANSES strongly advises against giving honey to children under one. 

What are the symptoms of child botulism?

Child botulism is a rare illness which affects children less than a year old.  Bacteria spores responsible for botulism can be found in dust, some earth but also in honey which is carried by bees.

The illness affects the child’s nervous system but can cause other symptoms such as:

  • constipation
  • general weakness (weak sucking, irritability, lack of facial expression)
  • losing control of head movements
  • breathing difficulties which result in needing urgent care (diaphragm paralysis)

In the majority of cases, child botulism requires long periods of hospitalisation under breathing apparatus, but fatal cases are extremely rare in developed countries.

Why are children under one at risk?

A child under one is particularly exposed to the risks of child botulism as their immune system is not quite ready to defend itself against all microbes and bacteria.

If a child eats honey contaminated by spores of bacteria which cause this illness, this bacteria can develop in the intestine where a toxin is produced that leads to the symptoms cited above. After one year old, the child’s immunity defenses are more effective and allow them to eliminate the spores naturally.

ANSES emphasises that even in small quantities, honey shouldn’t be given to children under a year old.  This includes using using to sweeten dishes or cakes that the child is likely to eat or to put onto the dummy to calm pain linked to growing teeth.

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