Topical Area: Maternal, Perinatal and Pediatric Nutrition
As ASD is more frequently diagnosed in males than females, research findings in ASD behaviors such as diet can be biased towards male-dominant features. Gender differences needed to be further explored to develop an intervention based on gender-specific needs, if there are any. This preliminary analysis aims to investigate gender differences in nutrient intake, diet quality, and mealtime behaviors among children with ASD.
Methods : A cross-sectional analysis of dietary intake and mealtime behavior was conducted in 39 children (26 males, 13 females) aged 2 to 17 with ASD. A parent of each child completed a 24-hour recall phone call and a mealtime behavior survey. Energy and nutrient intake data were analyzed with NDSR Pilot-Pack software. Diet quality was assessed using the Healthy Eating Index-2015 (HEI-2015). Descriptive statistics were generated in SPSS for nutrient intake and mealtime behaviors and in SAS for diet quality. Independent t-tests were performed to examine gender differences for nutrient intake and diet quality data; chi-square tests were performed for mealtime behavior outcomes.
Results : There were no gender differences in energy or nutrient intake. Males exhibited significantly higher HEI component scores for whole grains (p=0.029), fatty acids (p=0.039), and saturated fats (p=0.049). Total HEI score was higher in males, but the difference was not statistically significant. There was no difference in total mealtime behavior score by gender. However, males showed greater difficulty eating at home (p=0.028) and preference for certain food temperatures (p=0.008), while females had greater parent-reported binge eating behavior (p=0.048).
Conclusions : Boys in this study had higher diet quality in some categories and exhibited greater prevalence of certain problematic mealtime behaviors. Further research is needed to examine gender-specific needs in children with ASD that should be considered when implementing nutrition interventions.
Funding Sources : This work was supported by the University of South Florida Research and Innovation Internal Awards Program under Grant No. 0128126.