New Health Alert for Kids and a Gluten-Free Diet

A new article in the Journal of Pediatrics raises questions.

ByABC News
May 13, 2016, 10:33 AM

— -- A new article in the Journal of Pediatrics says that following a gluten-free diet may do more harm than good for children who don't have celiac disease.

The article is authored by a Columbia University gastroenterologist and appears in the Journal’s Commentary section.

“The increasing popularity of the GFD [gluten-free diet] has important implications for children. Parents sometimes place their children on a GFD in the belief that it relieves symptoms, can prevent CD [celiac disease], or is a healthy alternative without previous testing for CD or consultation with a dietitian,” the article states. “… There is no evidence that processed gluten-free foods are healthier than their gluten-containing counterparts, nor have there been proven health or nutritional benefits of a GFD, except as indicated previously in this commentary.”

Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News’ Chief Health Editor, said the gluten-free trend has become “all about marketing.”

“The NIH [National Institutes of Health] has done studies [and] 1 in 141 people truly have a problem with gluten, celiac disease,” Besser said today on “Good Morning America.” “One in five have been changing their diet to have less gluten.”

The NIH describes celiac disease as "an immune reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley." Dr. Besser said that some gluten-free products have more fat and calories and less protein than their gluten-containing counterparts.

“If your child has celiac disease … then gluten is a big deal, otherwise it's not,” Besser said. “Going on a special diet is a big deal. It instills in children fear of food. It's not very easy to do.”

He added of the gluten-free craze: "It's a multi-billion-dollar business."

The Grocery Manufacturers Association said in a statement to ABC News that parents should follow the dietary guidelines published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"In general, parents should focus on providing their children with foods that are aligned with the dietary guidelines -- regardless of gluten content. For children who do not have celiac disease or a wheat allergy, gluten-free diets do not have substantiated benefits. In instances where a child has either celiac disease or wheat allergy, or if non-celiac gluten sensitivity is suspected, parents should seek a health care professional's advice to obtain a correct medical diagnosis and treatment plan that may include a gluten-free diet that is nutritionally sound,” the statement reads.

If you think your child might have celiac disease, a gastroenterologist can make the diagnosis but the child has to still be eating gluten during the testing process.

"If you think your child has a problem with gluten, has celiac disease, you may see things like bloating or poor weight gain. You may see anemia, a problem with their blood, or diarrhea or constipation," Besser said. "You want to see a gastroenterologist ... [and] they have to be getting gluten in their diet to be tested properly to see if they have this."