Celiac.com 05/25/2012 - A team of researchers recently set out to examine body mass and obesity risk in a large population of people with celiac disease who are following a gluten-free diet.

Photo:CC-FBellonThe research team included T. A. Kabbani, A. Goldberg, C. P. Kelly, K. Pallav, S. Tariq, A. Peer, J. Hansen, M. Dennis & D. A. Leffler. They are affiliated with the Department of Medicine and Division of Gastroenterology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts.

Diagnosis for celiac disease is on the rise, and many people who are diagnosed experience weight changes once they adopt a gluten-free diet. There's a pretty good amount of study data on weight change on a gluten-free diet, but a very limited amount of data regarding changes in body mass.

The researchers wanted to look at a large population of people with celiac disease, who followed a gluten-free diet to better understand changes in body mass index (BMI) following celiac diagnosis.

To do this, they looked at a total of 1018 patients with biopsy confirmed celiac disease. The patients had all previously visited the Beth Israel gastroenterology clinic in Boston.

The team recorded data for initial and follow-up BMIs, and used an expert dietitian to assess patient compliance with a gluten-free diet. They found a total of 679 patients with at least two recorded BMIs and GFD adherence data, and used data from those patients in their study. The average amount of time from first BMI measurement to follow-up measurement was 39.5 months.

When they compared the results against data for the general population, they found that celiac disease patients on a gluten-free diet were significantly less likely to be overweight or obese (32% vs. 59%, P < 0.0001).

They also found that average body mass increased significantly after patients adopted a gluten-free diet (24.0 to 24.6; P < 0.001). Overall, 21.8% of patients with normal or high BMI at study entry increased their BMI by more than two points.

The results of this study show that celiac disease patients on a gluten-free diet have lower BMI than the regional population at diagnosis, but that BMI increases with a gluten-free diet, especially in those who follow the diet closely.

Still, even though overall risk of obesity is lower than the regular population, once celiac patients adopt a gluten-free diet, 15.8% of patients move from a normal or low BMI class into an overweight BMI class, and 22% of patients overweight at diagnosis gain weight.

As a result, the study team feels that weight maintenance counseling should be an integral part of celiac dietary education.

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