Between 4 and 5 years old, 37.5 percent of parents of autistic kids said their child was "very choosy," compared to about 14 percent of the parents of other kids.
Yet despite the challenges parents may face in getting their autistic children to eat a balanced diet, researchers found no differences in the height, weight or body mass index (BMI) of kids with autism compared to their non-autistic peers at age 7.
Autistic children ate fewer vegetables, salads and fresh fruit than other children, but they also consumed fewer sweets and soda, the study team found.
And an analysis of reported food intake showed autistic children and non-autistic children consumed similar amounts of calories, fats, proteins and carbohydrates.
Aside from small differences in levels of vitamins C and D, autistic and non-autistic children were getting similar amounts of important nutrients. Autistic children's levels of hemoglobin, or iron, in the blood were slightly lower, but not enough to be statistically significant.
Taken together, parents of children with an autism spectrum disorder should breathe easier about their child's eating habits, said study co-author Pauline Emmett, a nutritionist at University of Bristol in England.
"Although children with autism spectrum disorders are more difficult to feed and they eat less variety of foods, this is not affecting the nutrients of their diet, their height, weight or BMI," Emmett said. "There doesn't seem to be any major cause for concern."
The study is published in the July 19 online issue of Pediatrics.
Experts who treat children with autism often hear stories of parents having trouble around mealtime, said Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer for Autism Speaks. The problem is so prevalent most autism centers
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