Source: USA Today
Universities have taken limited measures to accommodate their gluten-free and gluten-sensitive students, according to a recent study by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA).
More than 1,000 students living with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity were surveyed, and 60% acknowledged they had been "glutened" (unknowingly consumed a product containing gluten) at a food service establishment. About 40% of those who had contacted a school official about their gluten-free needs said the administrator lacked necessary knowledge.
The difficulty of on-campus gluten-free lifestyles became a public issue last December when the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a settlement with Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., ordering the university to provide nutritional options for students with celiac disease and other food allergies.
Gluten, a protein found in foods such as wheat, barley and rye, can wear out the lining of the small intestine. Individuals with celiac disease are completely intolerant, but many more individuals are gluten-sensitive, meaning that they test negative for the illness but exhibit many symptoms.
At the University of Georgia (UGA), accommodations for gluten-free students existed before last year's settlement. Lindsay Hopkins, a rising junior and former president of Dawgs for Gluten Free Awareness, applauds the university's efforts in aiding her transition to the meal plan.
"The dietitian is actually incredible. She printed out the ingredients of all of the food on the menu; it was a huge packet," Hopkins said. "She did it for all the students who are gluten-free."
In the dining halls, gluten-free bread, pizza and a few other foods are available. Separate toasters exist to protect against cross-contamination, which Hopkins says she has been affected by before.
"Our dining halls do everything they can to prevent cross-contamination," she said. "But if your allergy is serious enough to where cross-contamination is an issue, something like having your own kitchen in a dorm room could make a big difference."
A study conducted by NDP Group, a market research company, confirmed that 28% of adults were trying to cut down on gluten last year. Only 5% to 10% of Americans exhibit a form of gluten sensitivity, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Ben Gray, nutrition education coordinator and registered dietitian at UGA's health center, says health crazes trend cyclically, but despite that, nutritionists' advice generally does not change because they cater to individual needs and focus on sustainable diet decisions.
He would not recommend a gluten-free diet unless someone needed to make that change.
While gluten-free and Paleo diets are rapidly achieving fad status, the lifestyle adjustment is not optional for students diagnosed with celiac disease, which is part of the reason they could be considered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Students with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, Crohn's disease or migraine conditions, can register with UGA's Disability Resource Center (DRC) and receive varying levels of assistance.
Diane Shimkets, assistant director at the DRC, said that students with celiac disease are currently able to register for services. Others with food allergies, like gluten intolerance, may be able to, depending on the severity as diagnosed by a doctor.
"We have had some students with severe peanut allergies, and it was only because they had housing specific needs," Shimkets said. "They may request to have access to a kitchen with a minimal number of users, because it's important not to contaminate the area."
Types of aid range from permission to take breaks during class to extended test time. Shimkets said food-allergy students would not receive the latter kind.
Hopkins said she didn't know if (those benefits) are exactly necessary. Regarding sick days, she added, "I usually am able to make it to class for an hour."
Stephanie Talmadge is a summer 2013 USA TODAY Collegiate Correspondent.