Gluten-free generation: Number of children with celiac disease doubled over past 25 years

ANCONA, Italy — The number of gluten intolerant children has doubled over the last 25 years, according to a new study. Children who suffer from celiac disease, one of the most common lifelong conditions in Europe, may not be getting the treatment they need because many have not been diagnosed, say scientists.

People with celiac disease produce antibodies to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, ingredients which are commonly used to make a variety of tasty foods such as bread, cakes, biscuits, pasta and some breakfast cereals. If they accidentally feast on gluten packed foods, these antibodies damage the gut lining and can lead to symptoms, including bloating, stomach pain, diarrhea and fatigue.

It can also cause blood diseases, fertility problems and osteoporosis, if they do not follow a strict gluten-free diet. In children, the condition has also been linked to poor growth and can delay puberty.

Now, researchers at Marche Polytechnic University in Ancona, Italy, have found the problem is much bigger than previously thought.

“Our study showed that prevalence of celiac disease in schoolchildren has doubled over the past 25 years when compared to figures reported by our team in a similar school age group,” says study author Elena Lionetti, a professor at the university, in a statement. “Our sentiment is that there are more cases of celiac disease than in the past, and that we could not discover them without a screening strategy.”

The discovery was made after a new screening program involving 7,760 schoolchildren was carried out in eight Italian provinces. A fingertip blood test was taken to see if the children had certain gene mutations which predisposes them to celiac disease. If they tested positive, the researchers then checked whether they had the antibodies to gluten. A formal diagnosis was then made using clinical criteria known as the ESPGHAN (European Society for Paediatric, Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition) criteria.

Millions of children with celiac disease may be undiagnosed

The researchers found 1.6 percent of children had celiac disease, which is much higher than the global average of around one percent.

“At the moment 70 per cent of celiac disease patients are going undiagnosed and this study shows that significantly more could be identified, and at an earlier stage, if screening were carried out in childhood with non-invasive screening tests,” says Lionetti. “Diagnosis and avoiding gluten could potentially prevent damage to the villi, finger-like projections that line the gut, which can lead to malabsorption of nutrients and long-term conditions such as growth problems, fatigue and osteoporosis.”

While around one percent of the U.S. population, or 3 million people have celiac disease. It’s estimated that 97% of those cases are undiagnosed, according to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center.

Carrying out screening programs in schools could avoid a lot of suffering for those who slip through the net, the researchers say.

“The study has shown that screening is an effective tool for diagnosing coeliac disease in children which could potentially help avoid a lot of unnecessary suffering from what can be a hard-to-detect condition,” says Lionetti.

The findings were presented at the World Congress of Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition.

SWNS writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.


  1. I cannot stress to you enough the enormous importance of these studies.
    I have a son, age 13 who is the youngest of 5 children. All of his siblings are grown in their 20’s and never did we have any issues with our others. Something was very wrong by the time this youngest child was 6 years old . Nobody could figure it out. One doctor who has an entire research lab and is the best of the best at Bostons Childrens hospital did diagnose possible adhd. This was halfway accepted by my husband and myself , because some of the time the diagnosis made sense; yet 60-70% of the time he was not hyperactive at all. Most of his issue was total confusion. Nothing made sense because he was the brightest most advanced baby you could ever know,& could concentrate on everything some days. The school hadn’t a clue and we didn’t see what was happening in the classroom. We just knew that he could not function at all. Very important to all of this was the comparison that we could ( luckily ) make to our four older children. Every one of them is very high functioning, top of their class major strengths in language and verbal comprehension, awards and speaking hundreds of words by two years along with long sentences at 15 months.. so we could see he hit those milestones then everything went downhill.
    When the pandemic hit, I had him at home for a solid year sitting next to him all DAY LONG . There was no other way for him to take in the lessons, process them and then work along with his class without me translating what was being said so that he could hear it fast enough. During this time I noticed the absolute pandemonium in the classroom which didn’t exist when we parents were children. Kids rolling around on the floor , kids on couches , kids interrupting nonstop, kids all speaking at once . Way too much distraction. There was no way he was going to keep up in that environment if he was having trouble paying attention , then this made it much worse for him. But, even more importantly I noticed another issue.,, gas.. as in FLATULENCE… all day long. It was CRAZY. After a few weeks of observation I just could not believe it. This child was farting all day long every day. How would I have known since I wasn’t there during the day and the teachers were! I said to him does this happen to you every day.. yes… every day ?? Pretty much . …
    So then I started to research and I immediately found gluten issues based upon his symptoms. I went back over things in my mind and I realized that he had been experiencing constipation when younger but not really complaining. He never needed to see a doctor for it but it was there. I also realized that he had had headaches , and some nose bleeds , which had been explained away by the doctor as it was because of forced hot air in our house. But, I also realize that none of the other children experienced any of this. I then went over his diet which was heavy heavy 75% of it gluten. From croissants in the morning to fry dough for snack, to lots of pizza and he absolutely loved bread; there was major gluten in his diet.
    Within one week I had him off of the gluten 85%. Two weeks later after that he was completely a different child. Whereas he had been spinning sitting next to me all day long, swinging his arms , not able to hold still , not able to concentrate.. he was suddenly still most of the time . I went on to remove gluten for a solid year only having it once per week a slice of pizza or some small thing for a treat … eventually the headache or vomiting showed up each time soon after within 24 hours -48 hours a total spaz attach episode. He is now gluten free and if he does have it he immediately throws up . If he has a small amount he will get a headache. However, without it he is a different person. This was a child who we actually could not have a normal conversation with at 11-12& now there is just what we realize to be residual damage left. He was doing everything he could just to organize his world by obsessive behavior because he absolutely could not concentrate. This was most definitely 100% from a gluten intolerance. He still does not test positive for celiacs. Instead , the gluten intolerance for him was silent … messing up his brain so much but able to digest it enough that one would never know. Please please please spread the word .. I have tried to tell everyone I know but people just can’t believe that it could be that simple of a solution. Autism has even been suggested, and he now fits none of the symptoms besides that he was obsessive and acting outrageous before we took away the gluten. He is a different person two years later!!

    1. My daughter was the same! Only people and myself thought maybe she was beginning puberty with the mood swings and random outbursts of anxiety. It wasn’t until she began having headaches multiple times a week that I took her to a Holistic Doctor. My daughter had gained weight, rashes on the backs of her arms, her belly was always hurting, she was gassy (all day everyday), head aches multiple times a week and the worst was seeing this happy loving girl becoming anxious, emotional and always stressed out. We have been so thankful for her doctor suggesting gluten and doing a blood test to confirm. My husband and I never believed in Gluten issues in people. Now seeing it with our daughter and the effects on her after eating just a little… we share it with everyone and hope like you do that people look into this with their children. 7 months post diagnosis my girl is a completely different kid then she was this time last year. All because of gluten.

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