Celiac Raises Risk for Teen Eating Disorders

Teens with celiac disease have a higher risk for eating disorders, according to new research from Tel Aviv University, Israel. The risk increases for adolescents who are overweight, female and older.

“This study could encourage families of individuals with celiac disease or their caregivers to increase their awareness to any signs of eating disturbance,” says Itay Tokatly-Latzer, MD, who worked on the research. “When there is a condition where you are preoccupied with an element of food restriction, you are predisposed to develop disordered eating behavior.”

Researchers conducted a web survey of 136 celiac patients aged 12 to 18 recruited through a national disease organization. One-third said they adhere strictly to a gluten-free diet while 11 percent reported poor adherence. The study found no link between dietary adherence and eating disorders.

Participants rated themselves on 26 questionnaire items such as, “I am preoccupied with a desire to be thinner,” and “I feel that food controls my life.” Seven percent of males and 19 percent of females recorded high scores overall for disordered eating. This compares with three and eight percent respectively among adolescents in the general Israeli population, reported by a separate study.

“Since disordered eating is even more prevalent in North America than in our region, I would say our data could not only be generalizable to North America, but the phenomenon could probably be even more prominent there,” says Tokatly-Latzer, a pediatrician at Dana-Dwek Children’s Hospital of Tel-Aviv Medical Center.

Having to follow a gluten-free diet could enhance risk for body image issues, the study suggests. Similar problems have been observed in conditions like inflammatory bowel diseases. Fear of painful symptoms, lack of alternate gluten-free foods and uncertainty about gluten contamination at parties could raise anxiety for teens with celiac.

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