Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Royal Prince Alfred Hospital
Allergy Unit

Student research

Do children with Autism Spectrum Disorder have a restricted diet?
How they compare with the new Dietary Guidelines
for Children and Adolescents in Australia.

Kathryn Laurich
Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Wollongong
Supervisors: Velencia Soutter, Robert Loblay, Anne Swain
November 2003

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Aim: To investigate the dietary variety of children with ASD compared to a control group and the Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents in Australia (DGCAA).

Method: Children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) (n=10) between the ages of three and ten years were investigated against a control sample of children without ASD (n=25). Food intake was measured using a food frequency questionnaire refined for use with a child sample. The influence on food intake was explored using 2 behavioural questionnaires, the Connors Rating Scale and Child Eating Behaviour and Appetite Scale. The groups were compared using averages with a 95% confidence interval to indicate any difference between behavioural influences on food intake and overall food intake. Preferences based on food characteristics such as taste, texture and colour were counted on their frequency in a list of favourite foods.

Results: There were no significant differences between the types of food eaten, flavour or texture. There was a marked difference in the preference for plain coloured foods in the ASD group compared to multicoloured food favourites of the control group. The ASD had a slightly more restricted variety of foods in their diet, which was supported by higher overall scores on the behaviour questionnaires for preferences for food sameness, and fear of new things. The overall intake based on the 5 major food groups of cereals, vegetables, fruit, dairy and meat (including alternatives) was similarly spread across the two groups. This spread however did not meet the new proportion of daily intake for the five major food groups as recommended by the new DGCAA.

Conclusion: Children with ASD have a slightly more restricted diet than children without ASD, however the balance of the major food groups is similar. However this balance does not meet the recommended daily intake of the DGCAA.