Common eating problems in people with autism


By Cara Murez
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, MAY 4, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Although well established autism and some food-related issues go hand in hand, does gender also play a role?

According to Swedish researchers, it seems to do so to better understand whether being male or female influenced the eating problems of people with autism.

The study found that autistic traits predicted eating problems, but the link was more pronounced especially among girls or women. These food-related problems may increase the risk of social isolation for women with autism, the researchers also found.

“We didn’t study the potential genetic difference between men and women, but we looked at this association between autism and eating problems. And we wanted to know if that was different between women and men,” said study author Karl Lundin Remnelius, PhD student at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

Remnelius claimed that the specific eating problems observed in women involved social environments.

“These items were, for example,‘ I find it hard to eat with friends ’or‘ I find it hard to eat at school, in a workplace or in a restaurant, ’” Remnelius said. look more closely at this subscale that it was only these social items that autistic women reported or had higher scores on. ”


The study also found that autistic traits predicted an increase in eating problems. Maybe it’s not that autism also causes eating problems, but that certain genetic factors could be responsible for both, Remnelius said.

“We don’t know if this is causal, if autism causes eating problems, or if there may be some other factor that can influence both autism and eating problems. It could be that some of the genes that increase the likelihood of a person with autism can also increase the likelihood that a person will have eating problems, ”Remnelius said.

“Sometimes you describe this as a genetic confusion, so it’s not really an autism that causes eating problems,” he said. “It’s more that people who have autism also have a kind of higher probability of having eating problems.”


The study included about 200 identical fraternal twins between the ages of 15 and 33, including 28 individuals diagnosed with autism, who were part of the roots of autism and ADHD Twin Study in Sweden. The study examined the associations of the entire sample and then within the twin pairs.


Participants reported their eating problems in a questionnaire that addressed eating problems in a broad way, Remnelius said. Participants also had neurodevelopmental assessments and the researchers collected information on autistic traits reported by parents.

Eating problems include selective eating, sensory sensitivity to food, and symptoms of alcohol eating disorders.

These social feeding issues may limit women from having opportunities for social interaction, Remnelius suggested, saying more research should be done on the subject.

The results were presented Monday at the International Society for Autism Research’s annual virtual meeting. This research is considered preliminary until it is published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The study confirms the above results, said Pamela Feliciano, scientific director of SPARK (Simons Powering Autism Research), who did not participate in this study.

Previous research has shown a link between autism or having autistic traits and having food selectivity. Cognitive inflexibility can be a risk factor for disordered eating, he said.

The idea that there is a gender difference in issues related to food is interesting and a new aspect that needs to be understood more, Feliciano said.


“I think that becomes important,” he said. “If a child with autism eats only three things, it will be very difficult for him to integrate into social situations.”

It can also be difficult for families to have experiences when food is so limited, Feliciano said. Therapy can help change this by slowly building a person’s food repertoire.

Many parents of children with autism report that they eat selectively, he noted. Some children eat only less than five foods or only foods of a certain color.

“It’s complicated. I think that repetitive behavior, the tendency to repetitive behavior and wanting to do the same thing over and over again play into it, but there is also – and research has shown – that it is a sensory component.” . Feliciano explained. “So if kids have a sensory sensitivity to loud noises and can’t stand it, eating a crunchy meal will be painful for them.”


More information

The Autism Society is a research organization that offers information on autism.

SOURCES: Karl Lundin Remnelius, PhD student, Karolinska Institutet and Center for Neurodevelopmental Disorders at Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden; Pamela Feliciano, PhD, Simons Powering Autism Research (SPARK), New York City, virtual annual meeting of the International Society for Autism Research, May 3, 2021

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