48 Years of Gluten Intolerance Group
Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) is celebrating 48 years of making life easier for everyone living gluten-free. Founded in 1974, GIG continues to grow and expand our programs and reach year-to-year. Here’s what we accomplished in 2021.
Outreach and Education
In keeping with our mission, GIG partnered with Cutting Costs for Celiacs, a small Wisconsin-based nonprofit founded by Lexie Van Den Heuvel when she was 16 years old. The goal of Cutting Costs for Celiacs was to provide relief for people diagnosed with celiac disease who were facing food insecurity. When Lexie learned that gluten-free products could cost up to six times the price of wheat-based foods, she began providing free boxes of gluten-free food to local families in need.
That partnership led to the formation of GIG Cares, an independent organization on a mission to tackle the real needs of the gluten-free community, starting with food insecurity. GIG Cares has expanded the Cutting Costs initiative, launching a nationwide food insecurity program, with the support of GIG. GIG spearheaded the Cutting Costs pilot program, delivering 20 boxes to early applicants and helping to develop the framework of GIG Care’s efforts, including fundraising on its behalf.
GIG Cares officially began operations in January 2022 partly with a grant from GIG. In the first three months of 2022, the Cutting Costs boxes program more than doubled in size and continues to see significant growth each month. With their latest shipment, GIG Cares is now serving nearly 200 families, working with GFCO-certified companies to help fill the boxes with quality, non-perishable, gluten-free food.
Kids Camps and Teen Summit
GIG has also restarted our youth and teen programs including Gluten-Free Kids Camps and the 2022 Generation GF Teen Summit aka the Gluten-Free Teen Chef Camp at the Culinary Institute of America at Copia in Napa, California. We were able to grant over $10,000-worth of scholarships for kids to attend a gluten-free week at camp last year, thanks to contributions from the GFCO program, and look forward to doing more of the same this year and in years to come.
We acknowledge the tremendous impact of the pandemic over the last several years on not only adults but our young people as well. The stress of isolation and fear of illness added to the challenges many people faced as they tried to stay safely gluten-free. The camps and Summit give young people the chance to socialize and feel less isolated, gain new skills, and learn more about living gluten-free, from not only experts but peers as well.
Virtual Events and Other Educational Initiatives
For adults living gluten-free, GIG held several successful virtual education events that included discussions with GIG and GFCO experts alongside several world-renowned experts including:
- Joe Murray, Professor of Medicine and a consultant with a joint appointment in Immunology, and Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Mayo Clinic
- Peter HR Green, MD, Director of Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University
- Stefano Guandalini, Professor Emeritus, founder and director emeritus of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center
- Dale Lee, MD, Pediatric Gastroenterology, Seattle Children’s Hospital
The virtual events were well-attended and provided invaluable, practical information about living safely gluten-free.
In addition to the virtual events, GIG worked to provide up-to-date educational information about celiac disease for school nurses at the national conference for the National Association of School Nurses. Our presentation at that event, attended by over 1,000 school nurses, was titled “Celiac Disease and Gluten
Sensitivity in School-Age Kids: Symptoms, Prevalence, and Support Resources.” Over 80% of nurses said that the presentation changed their approach to certain practices in their school health program.
GIG also took its outreach into the grocery stores, educating over 250 retail dietitians from 44 national grocery chains about the needs of the gluten-free consumer. The goal of this initiative was to provide consumer insights to help the grocery stores better address these needs.
The educational information we provide, tailored to each audience we serve, is informed by organic and more formal market research. In 2021, GIG hired the market research firm, NEXT, a division of Informa, to conduct a census-representative survey of consumers about their gluten-free habits and lifestyle. Of 3,429 people surveyed, we learned that 23% of U.S. shoppers reported gluten avoidance in their homes. Of those individuals, 7% are rigidly restricting gluten in their homes.
Other findings from the survey included that gluten avoidance indexes higher among male shoppers, older generations, households with children, people of color, and natural channel shoppers. Health empowerment drives gluten-free adoption more than medical diagnoses. 3% are medically tested and diagnosed with a condition that dictates gluten-free diet adoption while the other 20% are on a different wellness journey. Labeling standards are key to consumer adoption, confidence, and trust, with 67% preferring to see the GFCO certification mark over reading ingredients or gluten-free claims.
In an additional survey conducted by GIG, with over 3300 gluten-free community members responding, we learned that the cost of gluten-free food and the fear of dining out are the two biggest challenges faced by the community today. 75% are concerned with the cost of gluten-free food and 77% fear dining out, with hospitals being a particular concern for 68% of respondents.
Through our interactions with the community and deep learning using these types of surveys, we can make more informed decisions to ensure that GIG programs and initiatives best serve anyone who is living gluten-free.
Another way we serve the gluten-free community is by becoming the gold standard of gluten-free food certification through Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO). Using our 80 standards for gluten-free certification, GFCO has certified 65,659 products, working closely with 3204 brands to ensure the food we certify contains 10ppm of gluten or less. Check out the GFCO Product Directory.
GIG doesn’t only focus on packaged food safety but also on the safety of food prepared at food service establishments. In the last year, Gluten-Free Food Service (GFFS) validated seven health care systems, consisting of seven hospitals in the Universal Health Systems including validated locations in Nevada, Florida, Texas, and the District of Columbia, as well as Cleveland Medical Center and the Mayo Clinic.
Additionally, GFFS validates all the GenCare Living retirement and assisted living centers in Washington. GFFS also certified health coaches to help restaurants in their local communities meet the 50 standards of the GFFS validation process to become Gluten Free Safe Spots.
Offering Our Expertise
Over the years, GIG has offered our experts to serve in several areas, and this past year was no exception. GIG chaired the Gluten Working Group for the Gluten & Food Allergens Program through AOAC International, which brings together government, industry, and academia to establish standard methods of analysis that ensure the safety and integrity of foods and other products that impact public health around the world.
GIG also serves on the AOAC Expert Review Panel for Gluten Assays and is a Volunteer Expert for their Performance Test Methods® program, reviewing new test kit method validation. Our GIG expert is also a member of the Product Certification Advisory Committee for A2LA.
GIG also performs peer review of research articles in scientific journals and works with researchers and regulators to ensure that our certification program and educational materials are in line with current knowledge and best practices.
Looking Toward the Future
In the spirit of collaboration and contribution, GIG is deepening our long-standing connections with other organizations, like Seattle Children’s Hospital and GIG CARES, in support of initiatives that address food insecurity. We continue to grow GIG’s food safety programs and are initiating new community advocacy and education efforts that we are excited to announce soon.
All of this is to say that GIG is committed to strengthening our relationships within the gluten-free community and with the stakeholders and decision makers who can help us continue our work to make life easier for everyone living gluten-free. If this last year is any sign of what is to come, we can’t wait to see what the next two years will bring as we move toward our 50th anniversary!