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Disney Pulls "Jessie" Episode That Makes Fun of Celiac Disease

Update Date: May 21, 2013 11:39 AM EDT
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After an outcry from parents, the Disney Channel has pulled an episode of its series "Jessie" because it made fun of a character who cannot eat gluten.

The series is about a teenager from Texas who moves to New York and becomes a nanny to a famous couple's four children. According to CBS News, in the episode, the titular character Jessie agrees to take care of another family's child temporarily. The child is made the butt of the joke because of its dietary sensitivity, as it is mentioned that he has a five-page list of dietary requirements. At another point, a character throws pancakes at him, at which time the character shrieks, "Gluten!"

The joke was not a harmless one for one mother, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The mother of two children who were diagnosed with celiac disease, Amy Raslevich watched her children over the course of the episode, during which time tears leapt to her daughter's eyes and her son balled his hands into fists. Having been diagnosed with the condition 18 months ago, Ms. Raslevich says that it has been difficult for them, particularly due to reactions from other children.

Ms. Raslevich was moved to create a petition on Change.org, which has garnered over 2,100 signatures. The petition received attention from the Mouse, which posted a statement on Facebook, saying, "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."

Celiac disease is estimated to affect 1.8 million Americans, though it is suspected that 1.4 million Americans do not know that they have it. The autoimmune disease causes the villi of the intestines to be attacked if the affected person eats gluten, a protein found in barley, rye and wheat. If the villi are destroyed, the person will be unable to gain nutrients from anything that they eat and became malnourished. The only way to combat the illness is to avoid gluten foods altogether.

That has become easier in recent years, particularly with the trend of people without the illness eating gluten-free. In fact, according to the Los Angeles Times, 1.6 million people are eating gluten-free these days and, as a result, food manufacturers are responding in kind. Over 18 percent of new food products placed in stores are gluten-free.

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