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Don't Overlook Eating Issues Tied to Autism, Study Warns

SATURDAY, Feb. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Children with autism are five times more likely than other kids to have feeding issues, such as being especially picky eaters or having ritualistic behaviors or extreme tantrums during meals, new research finds.

These problems can lead to deficiencies in calcium, protein and other nutrients, according to the study, which was published online this month in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Healthy eating promotes a child's growth and development, and mealtimes provide important opportunities for children to socialize, the researchers noted. Chronic feeding troubles increase a child's risk for problems such as malnutrition, poor growth, social difficulties and poor school performance.

The researchers added that there is growing evidence that feeding problems and dietary patterns among children with autism may put them at increased risk for long-term health problems such as poor bone growth, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

"The results of this study have broad implications for children with autism," study author William Sharp, an assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, said in a university news release.

"It not only highlights the importance of assessing mealtime concerns as part of routine health care screenings, but also suggests the need for greater focus on diet and nutrition in the autism community," added Sharp, who also is a behavioral pediatric psychologist in the Pediatric Feeding Disorders Program at Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta.

Sharp said that despite the risk of long-term medical issues, feeding problems often are overlooked in relation to other areas of concern in the autism population.

"Our findings have immediate and important implications for the work of practitioners serving children and families with autism, who in the absence of such information may struggle to address parents' concerns, or, worse, may fill the void with alternative treatments that may be ill-conceived or even harmful to children and families," Sharp explained.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about autism.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Emory University, news release, Feb. 4, 2013

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