Eating a meal has benefits beyond nutrition. We know that eating a meal with family can influence children in particular to be more communicative and to feel more secure. Away from family, mealtimes can provide the same sorts of benefits from social interaction.
However, for children with autism, mealtime can provide difficulties which make those benefits hard to realize.
Five times more likely to have problems at mealtime
A new analysis of the feeding experience of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) tells us that these children are five times more likely to have problems including tantrums, severe food selectivity and ritualistic mealtime behaviors.
Additionally, researchers found that because of their food selectivity, these children tend to have a lower intake of calcium and protein and a higher number of nutritional deficits.
“The results of this study have broad implications for children with autism,” says William Sharp, PhD, a behavioral pediatric psychologist in the Pediatric Feeding Disorders program at Marcus Autism Center and assistant professor at Emory University of School of medicine.
“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.”
Long-term health implications
Nutritional deficits are linked to poor medical and developmental outcomes, including malnutrition, growth retardation, social deficits and poor academic achievement. For children with ASD, there is particular vulnerability to long-term medical complications, including poor bone growth, obesity and other diet-related diseases.
“Despite the risk of long-term medical issues, as well as frequent caregiver concern regarding the quality of their child’s diet, feeding problems are often overlooked in relation to other areas of clinical and research concern in the autism population,” continued Sharp. “This study was the first of its kind to quantify the impact of feeding disorders in the autism population. We hope that our work helps guide clinical practice, as well as provides a road map for future research in this area.”
Source: MedicalNewsToday, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders