Coeliac disease diagnoses have tripled among children in the UK over the last 20 years but those from poorer families are only half as likely to be diagnosed, new research shows.
Sufferers of coeliac disease experience an autoimmune reaction where the body attacks itself when they ingest gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye cereals.
This differs from food intolerances such as gluten sensitivity, which typically cause digestive discomfort, but are not an autoimmune response.
The research from the University of Nottingham, published in the medical journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, shows that around 1 per cent of children have blood markers for the disorder and that the diagnosis rate between 2008 and 2012 was 75 per cent higher than it was between 1993 and 1997.
The researchers used a UK database called The Health Improvement Network (THIN), a representative database of anonymised health records, to compile the data.
They found a 53 per cent rise in diagnoses among girls and a 39 per cent increase among boys in the same period, which was representative across all four countries in the UK.
However, children from socioeconomically deprived areas were only half as likely to be diagnosed compared to children from better off backgrounds.
According to the researchers, the rise in new cases is most likely a result of better awareness of the disease and better medical means to diagnose it, rather than an absolute rise in the prevalence of the condition, although this would not necessarily explain the socioeconomic gaps in diagnosis.