- A Change.org petition calling on Disney to ‘stop bullying gluten-intolerant characters’ attracted 2,137 signatures
PUBLISHED: 10:51 EST, 21 May 2013 | UPDATED: 12:33 EST, 21 May 2013
The Disney Channel has pulled an episode of its popular children’s show Jessie, after thousands of parents complained the storyline ridiculed young people with food allergies.
During the May 17 installment titled Quitting Cold Koala, a nine-year-old character named Stuart Wooten stated that he could not eat plain flour pancakes because he was gluten-free.
Instead of supporting his needs the rest of the cast made snide remarks and one child even threw pancakes in his face.
In response, one dismayed viewer launched a Change.org petition calling for Disney to ‘stop bullying gluten-intolerant characters’. In just a few days it attracted 2,137 signatures.
The online appeal was started by mother-of-two Amy Raslevich from Sewickley, Pennsylvania. Both her son Sam, eight, and daughter Laura, 11, were diagnosed with celiac disease 18 months ago.
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The digestive disorder triggered by consumption of the protein gluten, which is primarily found in foods such as bread and pasta, causes damage to the small intestine and stops the body from absorbing nutrients from food.
Unpleasant symptoms include abdominal pain, weight-loss, fatigue and diarrhea. There is no cure and the only known effective treatment is a lifelong gluten-free diet – meaning any foods or products containing wheat, rye and barley should be avoided.
‘We need to stress that being gluten-free is to keep our kids safe, it is not a “trend” or “fad”‘
Mrs Raslevich said that her children were distraught after watching the Jessie episode which ‘made fun of, humiliated and isolated’ the gluten-free child.
Expressing her outrage on her Change.org page she wrote: ‘In the Jessie episode, a young boy was said to require a gluten-free diet.
‘The other characters snickered at this requirement, and in fact threw a pancake at the child, which could have actually triggered a severe skin rash known as dermatitis herpetiformis.
‘The boy was made to be annoying, sniveling, and demanding, repeatedly teased and excluded by the other children.
‘For my kids, this is real. They have had friends make fun of their food, been disinvited to parties because of their diet.
‘They have been made to sit alone, have had waitstaff roll their eyes and snidely comment about their requests to make their food safe for them to eat.’
Another mother, Viviana Cardona from Ossining, New York, was equally offended. She added: ‘My son is gluten-free due to being ALLERGIC to gluten / wheat / oats / barley.
‘I guarantee if it was a peanut allergy, they wouldn’t have had them throwing peanuts at him’
‘He is severely allergic and an exposure is potentially fatal. This is my husband and my daily worry, that he will be “poisoned” by a bully.
‘We need to stress that being gluten-free is to keep our kids safe, it is not a “trend”, “fad” [but] a means to keep our children safe.’
A thread started on the website Reddit also touched on the issue. One commentator simply stated: ‘I guarantee if it was a peanut allergy, they wouldn’t have had them throwing peanuts at him. This is ridiculous.’
In response to the backlash, the Disney network has now pulled the episode from air.
A statement on its official Facebook page posted last Friday read: ‘To our viewers, we received your feedback about tonight’s ‘Jessie’ episode which some of you accessed early on Video-on-Demand.
‘We are removing this particular episode from our regular programming schedule and will re-evaluate its references to gluten restrictions in the character’s diet.
‘Please accept our apologies for the upset this episode caused you and your family. We value your feedback and thank you for watching Disney Channel.’
A 2012 study estimated that around 1.8 million people in the U.S. have celiac disease, and 1.4 million may not even know about it.
While gluten-free diets are necessary for people with celiac disease, they have also become a fad diet for some with about 1.6million excluding gluten from their diets for no medical reason.
People who do not need to be on the strict diet may develop vitamin deficiencies and other side effects.
A LIFETIME OF BEING GLUTEN-FREE: THE CURE FOR CELIAC DISEASE
Celiac disease is a digestive condition triggered by consumption of the protein gluten, which is primarily found in bread, pasta, cookies, pizza crust and many other foods containing wheat, barley or rye.
People with celiac disease who eat foods containing gluten experience an immune reaction in their small intestines, causing damage to the inner surface of the small intestine and an inability to absorb certain nutrients.
Celiac disease can cause abdominal pain and diarrhea. Eventually, the decreased absorption of nutrients that occurs with celiac disease can cause vitamin deficiencies that deprive your brain, peripheral nervous system, bones, liver and other organs of vital nourishment.
No treatment can cure celiac disease. However, sufferers can effectively manage the condition by changing their diet.
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