New data shows majority of colleges and universities lack knowledge and options to meet gluten-free needs, posing health threat to students.
On the heels of a recent U.S. Department of Justice settlement requiring universities to offer gluten-free meal options to students, a new survey of nearly 1,000 college students conducted by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) reveals a continued and pervasive lack of awareness and accommodation for students with gluten-related disorders.
The settlement, which required Lesley University to expand their meal plan offerings to include options suitable for students with celiac disease and other food allergies, also stated that food allergies may constitute a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Despite this landmark ruling, a recent NFCA survey revealed that 61 percent of gluten-free college students believe that their Dining Services Director or staff does not have sufficient knowledge about the gluten-free diet. In addition, 60 percent of gluten-free students report being ‘glutened’ or becoming sick from eating at a dining hall or foodservice establishment on campus.
“These statistics illustrate the overwhelming lack of knowledge in our secondary educational system when it comes to the needs of the gluten-free community,” says Alice Bast, founder and president of NFCA. “To students with celiac disease, gluten-free isn’t a lifestyle choice, it’s a necessity. It’s time that our colleges and universities paid equal attention to the nutritional needs and food safety concerns of this growing population.”
According to the NFCA, an estimated one percent of Americans have celiac disease and an estimated six percent of Americans have gluten sensitivity, but it can take many years to get diagnosed. Among the students NFCA surveyed, nearly one in two was diagnosed while in college, emphasizing the need for support on campus.
Individuals with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity require a strict, lifelong gluten-free diet. The transition can be a confusing and isolating process, and when compounded with a dining services staff that is either resistant or ill-prepared to accommodate that need, students with gluten-related disorders often have few or no dining options on campus.
“Celiac disease is known as a medical issue, but it's also an issue of community,” says Priyanka Chugh, a senior at New York University. “I know most universities, in addition to being paragons of academia, seek to create strong and inclusive communities. Providing wide-spread and safe gluten-free options would greatly benefit students requiring a gluten-free diet.”
“We know that Dining Services teams work incredibly hard to provide nutritious food for their students,” Bast continues. “Our goal at NFCA is to bring light to this problem and help colleges and universities get the knowledge and tools to meet this overlooked medical need.”
National Celiac Awareness Month
In honor of National Celiac Awareness Month this May, the NFCA is sponsoring a Fuel the Family initiative aimed at educating families on gluten-free nutrition and diagnosing celiac disease, a common autoimmune disorder. Celiac disease runs in families, but many individuals do not recognize their increased risk when a relative is diagnosed. With 83 percent of those with celiac disease still undiagnosed, the focus of this year’s National Celiac Awareness Month will be to arm families, schools and communities with information about celiac disease. NFCA will publish a downloadable Celiac Awareness Month Toolkit that contains educational resources on celiac disease testing.
Educating Our Schools
In addition to educating families through their Fuel the Family initiative, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) is dedicated to the continued improvement of our university and college dining facilities. NFCA offers a comprehensive training program called GREAT Schools, Colleges and Camps aimed at educating dining services staff about gluten-related disorders and the specific protocols needed to prepare and serve gluten-free meals for these students. Through the GREAT Schools program, dining hall directors and staff can complete the training online or in person to ensure students with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity have proper, nutritional food options in college.
About the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness
The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that drives diagnoses of celiac disease and other gluten-related disorders and improves the quality of life for those on a lifelong gluten-free diet. For more information about GREAT Schools and gluten-free needs on campus, visit http://www.beyondceliac.org/college.