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OH Study: "Picky Eating" in Kids with Autism Can Lead Nutrition Problems

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 By Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH, Contact
May 6, 2009

Cincinnati, OH - Dealing with a picky eater is a common complaint among parents, but for those who have a child affected by autism, it's more than just a growing pain. New research from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center finds that a limited variety of food can result in a high risk of serious nutritional deficiencies in children with autism.

Lead study investigator Dr. Michelle Zimmer says it's a tough situation for parents because many children with autism have strong preferences for certain foods.

"We've known for a very long time that this problem exists; it's just that we don't have a really effective way to deal with ritualistic feeding behaviors, and for some reason nobody has taken on this issue as to what to actually do about nutrition."

Dr. Zimmer says parents should discuss feeding concerns with their child's pediatrician, so a plan can be put in place to help improve nutrition.

"We need to work with parents on referring them to appropriate nutritionists, occupational therapists, or speech therapists – people who are skilled in working with kids with autism to increase their food choices."

She says the goal should be incorporating a wider range of foods in a child's diet.

"It absolutely is causing nutritional problems in these kids, and I don't think its something clinicians should ignore or just say, 'Oh, okay, you say your child eats only five things.' Let's do something about it, and let's improve the nutrition, and see what happens."

Dr. Zimmer says adding nutritional supplements to the diet might also be an option. The research found that 76 percent of children who had low food variety had at least one serious nutritional risk - and vitamin D and calcium levels were especially low.

The study can be found at www.cincinnatichildrens.org

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