Celiac is a diagnosed illness that is more severe than gluten sensitivity, which some people self-diagnose.
Ten years ago, most people had never heard of celiac disease.
But awareness has exploded in recent years, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. Some researchers say it was under-diagnosed, others say it’s because people eat more processed wheat products like pastas and baked goods than in past decades, and those items use types of wheat that have a higher gluten content.
Gluten-free diets have expanded beyond those with celiac disease. Millions of people are buying gluten-free foods because they say they make them feel better, even if they don’t have a wheat allergy. Americans were expected to spend $7 billion on gluten-free foods last year.
With so many people suddenly concerned with gluten content, colleges and universities have had to make accommodations. Some will allow students to be exempted from meal plans, while others will work with students individually. They may need to do even more now as the federal government is watching.
“These kids don’t want to be isolated,” Bast says. “Part of the college experience is being social. If you can’t even eat in the school cafeteria then you are missing out on a big part of college life.”
Under the Justice Department agreement, Lesley University says it will not only provide gluten-free options in its dining hall but also allow students to pre-order, provide a dedicated space for storage and preparation to avoid cross-contamination, train staff about food allergies and pay a $50,000 cash settlement to the affected students.
“We are not saying what the general meal plan has to serve or not,” Hill says. “We are saying that when a college has a mandatory meal plan they have to be prepared to make reasonable modifications to that meal plan to accommodate students with disabilities.”