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Body Mass Index in Celiac Disease: Beneficial Effect of a Gluten-free Diet

Cheng, Jianfeng MD, PhD*; Brar, Pardeep S. MD; Lee, Anne R. RD; Green, Peter H. R. MD

Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology: April 2010 - Volume 44 - Issue 4 - p 267-271
doi: 10.1097/MCG.0b013e3181b7ed58
ALIMENTARY TRACT: Original Articles

Background There is concern about celiac disease patients being overweight and gaining more weight while on a gluten-free diet (GFD).

Aim To investigate body mass index (BMI) and effect of GFD on BMI of celiac disease patients in the United States where obesity is a systematic problem.

Methods BMI at diagnosis and after 2.8 years (mean) on a GFD were compared with national data.

Results Among our patients (n=369, 67.2% female), 17.3% were underweight, 60.7% normal, 15.2% overweight, and 6.8% obese. All patients were followed by a dietitian. Compared with national data, females had lower BMI (21.9 vs. 24.2, P<0.0001) and fewer were overweight (11% vs. 21%, P<0.0001); more males had a normal BMI (59.5% vs. 34%, P<0.0001) and fewer were underweight (9.1% vs. 26.7%, P<0.0001). Factors associated with low BMI were female sex, Marsh IIIb/c histology, and presentation with diarrhea. On GFD, 66% of those who were underweight gained weight, whereas 54% of overweight and 47% of obese patients lost weight.

Conclusions A GFD had a beneficial impact on BMI, underweight patients gained weight and overweight/obese patients lost weight. The improvement in BMI adds to the impetus to diagnose celiac disease. Expert dietary counseling may be a major factor in the beneficial effects we noted.

*Department of Medicine, Sound Shore Medical Center of Westchester, New Rochelle

Department of Medicine, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY

Reprints: Peter H. R. Green, MD, Department of Medicine, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, 180 Fort Washington Avenue, New York, NY 10032 (e-mail:

Received for publication March 16, 2009

accepted July 15, 2009

Declaration of personal conflicts of interest and funding: None.

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.