Vegetables, Schmegetables, Autistic Kids are Picky Eaters; Study Says Relax

Filed under: Nutrition: Health, Medical Conditions, In The News, Mealtime, Research Reveals: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Research Reveals: Big Kids


Man does not live by bread alone, the Gospel of Matthew tells us.

True. There must frequently be peanut butter and jelly involved. Oh, and chicken nuggets. Don't forget the chicken nuggets.

Beyond that, man is one happy camper.

OK, so the average man might need a few more choices on his menu. However, a lot of autistic kids -- fussy eaters that they are -- are more than content with such a limited selection.

And you know what? That's cool.

Parents working themselves into a tizzy about how their child's picky eating will affect his growth and development can unknit their brows.

Researchers looked into the matter and found, the website WebMD reports, that the kids are all right.

"Although the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) children were eating less variety of foods compared to the rest, they were not growing less well or more likely to have anemia (low levels of iron in the blood)," Pauline Emmett, Ph.D, a senior research fellow at the Nutrition Centre for Child & Adolescent Health at the University of Bristol, England, tells WebMD. "Their diets were similar in energy and most nutrients, so it suggests that parents of ASD children can relax a little about whether the diet their children are eating is likely to be adequate."

Researchers' findings appear in the August issue of Pediatrics.

A lot of kids don't want to eat their vegetables or have an irrational prejudice against meatloaf. Autistic kids are even more picky. Often, parents can count the types of food their kids will eat on one hand.

Still, WebMD reports, researchers found such limited choices didn't have any bearing on energy or calorie intake and didn't result in any significant nutritional shortfalls. At least not at age 7.

"There are many ways of making up an adequate diet, and although nutritionists usually advise 'plenty of variety' in foods eaten, a less varied diet can be adequate," Emmett tells WebMD. "If the behaviors are very extreme in a minority of ASD children there could be a chance of nutritional inadequacy, but our study is saying that this is not the case for the majority. Parents who are worried about this should see their family doctor or ask to see a trained registered dietitian."

Dr. Daniel Coury, chief of developmental behavioral pediatrics at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and medical director of the Autism Treatment Network, tells WebMD parents should find the research reassuring.

"If parents are concerned about nutritional intake among their children with autism because they eat a selective diet, it looks like most are getting adequate nutrition," he adds.

By the way, don't blame yourself -- or the other parent. Some parents do.

If your husband is a picky eater, Coury tells WebMD, it doesn't mean he made your son that way.

"There has been concern that food preferences reflect parents' food preferences," he tells the website. "If mama doesn't liked broccoli, she won't serve broccoli, and this study suggests that intrinsic food selectivity in children on the spectrum is probably related to the spectrum, not their parents' eating habits."

Related: Researchers Blast Another Link Between Autism and Vaccines

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.