Are there Nutritional Issues Related to Autism?

By Spmallare (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

There is no definitive information that proves conclusively children with autism have selective patterns of eating, food neophobia, limited food preferences and sensory issues. However, researchers now say there are inconsistencies about the extent and type of nutritional deficiencies autistic children experience.

Autism Statistics

Approximately 1 in 88 children in the United States suffers from a type of autism spectrum disorder. This number represents a 78% increase in the incidence of autism since 2002, although some of the increase could be related to advances in diagnostic capabilities.

Children with autism might have poor nutrition because they often have selective or unhealthy eating patterns, as well as sensory sensitivity that might result in them restricting their diet.

In the July 2015 issue of the Advances in Nutrition Journal, a piece entitled “Nutritional Status of Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Do We Know Enough?” was published. The article centered on studies that examine the status and nutritional needs of people dealing with complicated behavioral disorders.

The study authors examined a number of early warning signs of eating patterns and nutritional information that may alert parents and healthcare providers as to the possibility of an autism spectrum disorder. One example involves researchers discussing the possibility that low levels of folate, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12, could be potential biomarkers for making an early autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. Additionally, the authors highlight abnormally accelerated growth rates in babies and children could be a signal of autism.

People with autism could experience malnutrition because of selective eating habits. Other reasons for malnutrition include, the individual having a limited food preferences, hypersensitivity, mealtime behavioral issues and a fear of eating new or unfamiliar foods. As a result of these issues, an individual may need nutritional supplements or fortified foods to help ensure they receive all the vitamins and nutrients they need to be healthy.

Although not all research studies are consistent, there are ones that indicate children with autism are more likely to be overweight or obese. The higher likelihood of an autistic child being overweight or obese could be due to unusual dietary habits or because of less opportunities to be physically active.

However, there are also studies that site children with autism spectrum disorder are more likely to be underweight than the general population. It could be due to unusual dietary habits, just as it is the same habits could lead to an individual becoming overweight or obese.

Due to the large rise in autism spectrum diagnoses coupled with their higher mortality rates, the study authors point to “enormous public health implications.”

Results of the Study

Researchers need to do more studying in order to help aid in the early diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders and to develop strategies that will help these individuals’ lead healthier lives.

Additionally, study authors note that most nutritional research have focused entirely on the needs of children with autism. With the increased number of middle aged and elderly people with autism on the rise, it’s important for research to focus on the special nutritional needs of these individuals as well.

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