A balanced approach towards healthy eating in autism
Background: This audit was undertaken to investigate the dietary intake and food-related behaviour of children diagnosed within the autistic spectrum continuum. It was hoped to understand the difficulties faced by parents and carers and to offer a holistic service. Method: Parents of 17 autistic children aged 42-117 months were interviewed and data collected by 3-day dietary recall and food frequency questionnaire. Weight and height measurements for each child were obtained. South Derbyshire Ethics Committee approval was given. Results: Nutrient intakes on analysis fell below reference nutrient intake (RNI) levels for 53% (nine) children in one or more of the following nutrients: vitamin C, iron, vitamin D, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, calcium and zinc. One child fell below the lower reference nutrient intake (LRNI) for iron and three children aged under 4 years did not meet the LRNI for vitamin D from dietary sources. Excessive milk consumption in 13 children raised calcium intake to levels above 200% of RNI levels. Conclusion: Eating habits were extremely prescriptive. Food preferences were specific for `dry' or `wet' forms, colour, shaped retail products and even brand packaging. Food refusal and introduction of new foods were cited as the most difficult problems faced by parents. Oral sensitivity, poor oral motor movements and difficult eating behaviours were identified and an integrated service involving dietitian, speech therapist and paediatric clinical psychologist was advocated.
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