“Autism Eats: Preschoolers” Nutrition Intervention to Promote Healthy Eating Habits Among Preschoolers with Autism Spectrum Disorder – A Feasibility Study

Institution: University of South Florida
Instagram: @graynutritionlab

Project Overview

Autistic preschoolers often face problematic mealtime behaviors and feeding challenges that can lead to poor nutrition and chronic health issues like obesity. Early intervention is crucial to prevent these issues and foster healthy eating habits. There is a gap in nutrition interventions tailored for the unique needs of preschoolers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). To address this, the study assesses the feasibility of "Autism Eats: Preschoolers," an innovative intervention aimed at improving mealtime behaviors. We build upon prior research to refine intervention strategies and conduct a preliminary study with preschoolers and their parents. Despite challenges in tracking direct outcomes due to HIPAA constraints, our use of validated instruments aims to measure the intervention's feasibility and potential to positively influence eating behaviors, aligning with the AIR-P Community-based Lifestyle Interventions Research Nodes.

The study aims to determine the feasibility of an innovative nutrition intervention to reduce problematic mealtime behaviors and promote healthy eating habits among autistic preschoolers. Our long-term goal is to make nutrition intervention resources available to a broader audience of autistic individuals, aiming to reduce the risk of obesity and improve the overall physical health of children with ASD. The objectives of our project are (1) to develop and refine “Autism Eats: Preschoolers” intervention to provide age-appropriate feeding strategies and promote healthy eating behaviors for preschoolers with ASD (ages 3-5 years) and their parents; and (2) to evaluate the feasibility of the “Autism Eats: Preschoolers” with a sample of ethnically diverse preschoolers with ASD and their parents. Once the feasibility is established, we seek additional funding (e.g., NIH R01) to test its efficacy in improving eating behaviors and reducing the lifetime risk of diet-related chronic conditions in individuals with ASD.