Rise in childhood coeliac diagnoses
Three times as many children are being diagnosed with the digestive condition coeliac disease than 20 years ago, according to new research.
The study carried out at Nottingham University found diagnoses in children older than two years were 75% higher between 2008-2012 than 1993-1997.
It also suggested that children from poor backgrounds suffering the disease were half as likely to be diagnosed than those from the least deprived areas.
Coeliac disease prompts an autoimmune reaction to gluten, found in foods such as wheat, flour and bread, and can lead to a range of other medical problems if untreated.
Researchers said overall they believed the rise in diagnoses was because of growing awareness of the condition, which their evidence suggested affected up to 1% of all UK children.
But they added that the disparity between children from richer and poorer backgrounds could indicate a lack of access to testing in some areas, rather than a lower occurrence of the disease.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal, said: "Awareness campaigns and the implementation of diagnostic guidelines may help to implement strategies for case-finding in all children and reduce this inequality.
"Moreover, a greater use of the new paediatric guidelines with the possibility to diagnose symptomatic cases without biopsy might increase the access to diagnosis in children from the most deprived areas."
The study looked at the data of more than two million children in the UK from the anonymous Health Improvement Network records.
Sarah Sleet, chief executive of Coeliac UK which partly funded the research, said: "This research is very useful in providing a much better understanding of how many children have been diagnosed with coeliac disease, and gives us an insight on where we should be driving resources to increase awareness of coeliac disease and need for diagnosis."