A MasterChef winner has teamed up with Coeliac UK to help find thousands of children living with undiagnosed coeliac disease.
Jane Devonshire, champion of MasterChef 2016, is the charity’s new ambassador spearheading the 2020 campaign focusing specifically on youngsters – and is urging school caterers to look out for the telltale signs.
Jane’s youngest son Ben was diagnosed with coeliac disease when he was just two years old. She said: “Raising awareness of coeliac disease especially for children, is a cause close to my heart. I’ve seen first-hand the difference that early diagnosis can make and I want to help the charity reach more parents and carers who might be struggling and searching, sometimes for many years, to find answers to their child’s ill health.”
Coeliac disease is not an allergy or an intolerance but an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system damages the lining of the small bowel when gluten, a protein (found in wheat, barley and rye) is eaten. There is no cure and no medication; the only treatment is a strict gluten free diet for life.
One in 100 people in the UK is estimated to have coeliac disease but of these, only 30% are diagnosed, meaning there are nearly half a million people in the UK with undiagnosed coeliac disease.
Jane also struggled to get a diagnosis for her son’s condition. She explains: “He was so miserable, crying all the time and his nappies were disgusting. It was awful for everyone. I knew something was wrong but no one would listen to me. I ended up moving to another doctor who did listen to me and, within three months, Ben (now 17) was diagnosed and our whole life changed.”
She continues: “Coeliac disease manifests itself in many different ways so we all have to be on our toes. Anybody involved in feeding children should be involved, including school caterers. If you notice a difference in a pupil’s behaviour, raise it with the teaching staff.”
School cooks should also ensure their menus are inclusive, says Jane. “Coeliac disease can be socially very isolating and there are very mixed reviews on what schools are doing. Some are doing fantastically well but I also hear about pupils who have a jacket potato every single day because there is nothing else available. No one wants to eat the same thing day in day out. They want to pick the same food as their peers don’t want to be treated different.
“There’s a lot more that can be done and more and more gluten free products becoming available but the important thing is we are moving in the right direction.” Average time to diagnosis is 13 years, which Coeliac UK wants to change. If left untreated, coeliac disease can lead to a number of serious complications later in life.
SYMPTOMS OF UNDIAGNOSED COELIAC DISEASE IN CHILDREN INCLUDE:
Diarrhoea and other unexplained gut symptoms/ Faltering growth or unexpected weight loss / Dental enamel defects /Extreme tiredness /Bloated tummy
Coeliac UK’s online assessment www.coeliac.org.uk/ isitcoeliacdisease, based on the NICE guideline NG20, gives people greater confidence to seek further medical advice from their GP.