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Celiac Disease Health Center

Gluten-Free Camp Helps Celiac Disease Kids

Study Shows Special Camp Improves Self-Perception of Children on Restricted Diets
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 15, 2010 -- A week at a gluten-free camp improves the lives of kids with celiac disease, say researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.

People with celiac disease develop intestinal damage and painful symptoms if they eat even a little gluten, a protein found in foods made from wheat, rye, or barley.

Celiac disease is hard on kids, who feel the stigma of being unlike other children. Kids with celiac disease may have difficulty relating to others and often feel bad about themselves.

But the researchers found that negative self-perceptions of kids still new to the dietary restrictions improved when they went to the gluten-free camp. 

The researchers tracked 104 youngsters at a gluten-free camp, 70% of whom had been on a gluten-free diet for less than four years. The children, aged 7 to 17, were given a 14-question survey at the start and end of the camp that gathered information on how they felt about themselves.

"All seemed to benefit from camp, no longer feeling different from other kids or feeling frustrated with a restricted diet," the researchers write. "Improvement was observed in each of the three categories of questions: well-being, self-perception and emotional outlook."

But the camp experience had a greater effect on those who had been on a gluten-free diet for less than four years. Children who had been on a gluten-free diet for more than four years already had high positive ratings at the beginning of camp, so their ratings at the end of the camp session changed less.  

The researchers, including Tasce Simon Bongiovanni, of the University of California, San Francisco, say they hope their findings will encourage children with celiac disease to attend such camps to improve their quality of life at home, school, and during social gatherings.

"A gluten-free camp that provides an environment of unrestricted foods can at least temporarily alleviate stress and anxiety around food and social interactions," the researchers write. "Durability of these observations on return to daily life requires additional study.

"Celiac camp enables children with [celiac disease] to enjoy the camp experience freely without concern for and preoccupation with the foods that they are eating or the stigma of their underlying disease," the researchers conclude.

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