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Study: Eating Troubles Putting Kids With Autism At Risk

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Kids with autism are five times more likely than other children to experience food-related problems ranging from mealtime tantrums to extreme pickiness, issues with potentially long-term health consequences, researchers say.

Though many parents have long indicated concerns about the eating habits of their children with autism, a new analysis of existing research on the issue is believed to offer the first comprehensive look. In the review of 17 studies, researchers at Emory University and the Marcus Autism Center found that kids with the developmental disorder face serious risks of feeding and nutrition problems.

In addition to being pickier eaters, kids with autism often have mealtime rituals and other extreme behaviors surrounding feeding, the study found. What’s more, they have lower intake of calcium and protein and more overall nutritional deficits than other children, the researchers report this month in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

“The results of this study have broad implications for children with autism,” said William Sharp, an assistant professor at Emory who led the study. “It not only highlights the importance of assessing mealtime concerns as part of routine health care screenings, but also suggests the need for greater focus on diet and nutrition in the autism community.”

The nutrition deficits and feeding problems found may be putting children with autism at risk for long-term medical concerns like obesity and cardiovascular disease, researchers said. Sharp and his colleagues also warn that the food-related problems uncovered in their study may be exacerbated by efforts to eliminate some foods from children’s diets in an attempt to treat autism.

“Our findings have immediate and important implications for the work of practitioners serving children and families with autism, who in the absence of such information, may struggle to address parents’ concerns, or, worse, may fill the void with alternative treatments that may be ill-conceived or even harmful to children and families,” Sharp said.

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Comments (7 Responses)

  1. geeegee says:

    As a parent who has a son with autism and who was an extremely picky eater…I recommend, if you live in California, that you get a medical cannabis card. Give your kid an MJ cookie and their appetite will normalize. Works every time. Plues they will smile.

  2. bigangus1 says:

    As a Medicaid Service Facilitator, I see several children who have autism with serious eating problems. The Eating and Feeding Program at Virginia Commonwealth University, Children’s Hospital of Richmond, is an excellent program that has helped some of these children to not only be able to eat a variety of foods, but also to take their medicines!

  3. Tacitus says:

    I too was a very picky eater and I am glad that someone is actually researching this. Time to put away the tinfoil hats and ask the real questions. We’re here to stay, now what are you going to do about that?

  4. KA101 says:

    Well, that’s certainly one alternative treatment that might conceivably be harmful to children: not sure if geeegee makes sure to get informed consent or enforce minimum age for the marijuana-cookies. (That’s basic cooking ethics, to say nothing of the medical & parenting issues.)

    As for the study itself, well, restricted diets do reduce the ways to get nutrients in. Nothing terribly new there: sensory issues can definitely make new foods difficult, along with the familiarity problem. How about finding alternate approaches to getting calcium & protein into the kids?

  5. Janet Ann Collins says:

    We found the Feingold diet helped our autistic foster son dramatically.

  6. Glen S says:

    “Time to put away the tinfoil hats and ask the real questions.” And this moves the conversation forward, how? Vitriolic, hateful, and confrontation statements such as this only serve to alienate the community more. It is these statements which give the vast majority of the stakeholders to believe that self advocates are not serious participants of the greater conversation.

  7. Carolyn Loo says:

    I am the parent of a 12 year old boy who has high-functioning autism. I think it is important to note that many of the “favorite” foods that my son and many other autistic kids favor are of the fast food variety and/or highly processed. These foods create an almost drug like high or calming effect and are also very addicting. Making changes to minimally processed and organic foods I believe are a step in the right direction. Also, there are blood tests to determine food sensitivities (I had one done for myself) and specific foods that are bad just for you and not necessarily anyone else can now be known easily. I know for myself that avoiding those foods can help a myriad of health issues. I also use probiotics with both myself and my son. Over time it helps both of us with health and focus. I believe that specific dietary changes supervised by a qualified Naturopathic Doctor can definitely improve autism symptoms over time and have a very positive result in over all health!

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