BOSTON — In connection with Celiac Awareness Month in October, the Grain Foods Foundation has prepared for its membership a packet of information aimed at helping bakers field media calls about celiac disease, gluten intolerance and gluten-free products.
Among key messages prepared for the foundation by its marketing agency Mullen in Boston is that while gluten-free diets are critical for patients with celiac disease or gluten intolerance and may be helpful for those with wheat allergies, gluten avoidance is "unnecessary for the general population in terms of cost and nutrient delivery."
The key messages warn of "nutritional challenges" associated with gluten-free dieting.
"Gluten-free diets often lack B vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, folate, vitamin D, magnesium and a host of other nutrients that are found in wheat, barley and rye products," the foundation said. "Following a gluten-free diet also does not guarantee weight loss as some proponents suggest. In fact, people often gain weight by substituting high fat foods for low-fat grain products."
The information features a series of frequently asked questions, with answers, including explanations of celiac disease, its prevalence, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and risk. Currently, the prevalence of celiac disesase among average, healthy people is 1 in 133.
In background material for G.F.F. members, Mullen noted that the growing awareness of celiac disease combined with a surge of new gluten-free product introductions has prompted media coverage to rise as well. Celiac disease was the subject of 4,300 articles in 2008, up from 1,000 in 2005 with 5,400 projected for this year.
"The rapid growth in media attention means more consumers have heard of gluten-free diets although many may not know what it really means," said Jennifer Geiger, senior account executive at Mullen. "Also some fail to understand that a gluten-free product does not offer any additional health benefits to those who are not gluten intolerant."
Ms. Geiger said Mullen is working with members of the G.F.F. scientific advisory team through its ongoing rapid response program. Additionally, she said the Mullen public relations group will be proactively contacting health and nutrition reporters in daily print and on-line outlets as well as editors at major women’s magazine to offer input on diet-related stories that may be published in the coming months.
Ms. Geiger said that serving as a point person on the advisory team will be Julie Miller Jones, professor of nutrition, College of St. Catherine, St. Paul, Minn. She said Dr. Jones will be available for media comment during the weeks ahead.