Food and Behaviour Research

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30 October 2019 - Helio - Parents of children with autism may benefit from diet interventions

Joe Gramigna


Study finds that parental dietary intake and mealtime eating habits can contribute to disruptive behaviour associated with autism. The study was based on a survey for families living with autism, and included 21 questions regarding mealtime behaviour, feelings about mealtime behaviour, weight change and parent/caregiver dietary habits.


The study, Parental dietary intake & mealtime feeding behaviors associated with autism spectrum disorder, is not yet available online. It was presented at the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo, October 2019, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

See here for more articles on the effects of diet on the symptoms of ASD.

Research presented at the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo highlighted a need for future studies of the impact of autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, within the family unit over time. Potential interventions include family-centered approaches to address mealtime behavior and programs that focus on managing disruptive behavior, researchers reported.

“We gathered information on how parents of children who are on the spectrum are affected by their child’s everyday diet and observed trends regarding whether parents fall into the same dietary patterns as their child,” Jadin Fields, a student in the department of public and allied health at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, told Healio Psychiatry. “The data shows that approximately 80% of children with autism will have some type of feeding restrictions, so it is important for parents to receive guidance as early as possible on how to address this situation.”

Fields and Kerri Lynn Knippen, PhD, MPH, RDN, LD, assistant professor in the department of public and allied health at Bowling Green State University, conducted a cross-sectional study that included responses from 27 parents/caregivers of children with ASD who attended a community outreach program in the Midwest. The respondents completed a survey that included 21 items regarding mealtime behavior, feelings about mealtime behavior, weight change and parent/caregiver dietary intake.

The researchers found that parent/caregiver average BMI at time of diagnosis was 27, and it was 29 at the time of the study, which was a statistically significant difference (P < .001). Several factors influenced parent/caregiver dietary intake behaviors — disruptive behavior, parental mealtime actions, child’s selection or refusal and limited variety. Those who reported experiencing mealtime difficulty with their child were more likely to eat out and fail to eat two or more servings of fruit per day. Additionally, those who held negative feelings about mealtime were more likely to skip breakfast. Child food refusal was associated with parent/caregiver sugary beverage intake.

Fields and Knippen concluded that parents/caregivers may benefit from education and resources that support positive parental modeling and parental snack limits.

It is important for health care providers to work together with parents and caregivers to provide family-centered approaches to nutrition for ASD,” Knippen said. "Interdisciplinary programs that focus on educating the family unit, especially the caregiver, on ways to handle stress associated with mealtimes and mediate eating behavior while addressing nutritional needs are needed. We hope that teaching parents how to model healthy choices and using healthy snack limits can have a positive influence on parental stress, confidence, dietary intake and the child’s overall well-being."