Children with autism at risk for eating problems

February 11, 2013

New research reveals that children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are 5 times more likely to have eating problems and subsequently nutritional deficiencies than children who do not.

New research reveals that children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are 5 times more likely to have eating problems and subsequently nutritional deficiencies than children who do not have ASDs.

A comprehensive meta-analysis of all previously published, peer-reviewed research on autism and chronic feeding problems showed that children with ASDs face poor medical and developmental outcomes, including malnutrition, growth retardation, social deficits, and poor academic achievement.

Researchers also found that children with ASDs have lower intake of calcium and protein. The dietary patterns in children with autism and mealtime behaviors such as tantrums, food selectivity, and other ritualistic behaviors place them at risk for long-term medical complications, including poor bone growth, obesity, and cardiovascular disease in adolescence and adulthood.

Screening for feeding concerns and nutritional deficits and measuring anthropometrics should be part of routine medical evaluations for children with ASDs. Health care providers also should be wary of elimination diets as a treatment for autism because such food restrictions could exacerbate nutritional risks for these children.

Researchers suggest that future studies should include analysis of the health burden associated with atypical dietary patterns, including obesity and obesity-related disorders, and the long-term social implications and family stresses associated with chronic feeding problems in children with ASDs.