Poster Topical Area: Maternal, Perinatal and Pediatric Nutrition

Location: Hall D

Poster Board Number: 311

P13-053 - Feeding children with autism spectrum disorders: mealtime behaviors and feeding issues identified by parents

Sunday, Jun 10
8:00 AM – 6:00 PM

Objectives: Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are more likely to have problematic mealtime behaviors, which may affect long-term eating habits and nutritional status. Before conducting an intervention, there is a need to better understand the nature of the feeding difficulties experienced by the target population. The purpose of this preliminary study is to better understand mealtime behaviors and feeding issues in children with ASD in Florida.

Methods: A cross-sectional survey was administered to parents of 35 children with ASD living in Florida (71% male). The Mealtime Survey with 49-items developed and validated by Provost et al. (2010) assessed early history, mealtime location, mealtime behaviors, and food preferences and restrictions, which reflect parents' perceptions of children's mealtime and feeding issues. A total score was calculated based on 44 questions and was compared to reference data with typically developing children from a previous study. Descriptive statistics and one-sample t-test were performed.

Results: Of the 23 out of 35 mothers who nursed their children, 61% reported difficulties with breastfeeding. Nearly a third of parents (31%) reported that their child has food allergies. Most parents (74%) reported that their child resists trying new foods, 71% crave certain foods, and almost all (97%) avoid certain foods. 63% of parents identified their children as picky eaters, and the most prominent mealtime behavior problems (46%) were "leaves table frequently" and/or "restless but sits". About half (51.4%) reported that their child has favorite food textures, and 50% of those reported that it limits the child's food intake. There were 29% of participants currently avoiding food additives/color, 23% on a lactose-free diet, 17% on a casein-free diet, and 14% on a gluten-free diet. A total score for 44 questions ranged 1-19. The mean (9.7, SD=4.6) was significantly higher than the reference data (6.3, SD=4.3; p<.001)

Conclusions: Difficulties in feeding may start early in children with ASD, including during breastfeeding. Interventions addressing food selectivity and mealtime restlessness may be beneficial. Further studies are needed to determine whether children with specific problems or on special diets have any nutrient deficiencies.

Funding Source: University of South Florida, New Researcher Grant

CoAuthors: Acadia Webber, MS – University of South Florida; Chantell Robinson – University of South Florida; Bianca Anuforo – University of South Florida

Heewon L. Gray

Assistant Professor
University of South Florida
Tampa, Florida