P076 Eating and Weight Behaviors Among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Weight Concerns: Parents’ Perspectives.


      According to 2018 CDC data, approximately 1 in 44 children have Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). Children with ASDs have an increased propensity towards overweight and obesity due to limited diets and physical inactivity. High-quality research interventions to address obesity in this population are limited, and none have been informed by an intentional process to understand parent stresses and barriers to change surrounding meals and eating behaviors.


      This qualitative study aimed to explore parents’ perceptions of their autistic children's eating behaviors, weight, and the support they need from healthcare providers to improve their children's weight status.

      Study Design, Setting, Participants

      Participants in this study were recruited using criterion sampling from Texas. Semi-structured Zoom interviews were conducted with 10 parents of overweight/obese autistic children between the ages of 6-12 years.

      Measurable Outcome/Analysis

      Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim using NVivo Pro 12.0. Two trained coders independently analyzed transcripts using an open-coding and consensus-building approach for thematic analysis.


      Seven themes were identified: (1) Child's eating attitudes and behaviors; (2) Factors influencing child's nutrition knowledge and skills; (3) Meal planning and preparation; (4) Parental attitudes and experiences toward feeding; (5) Parental attitudes towards child's weight; (6) Parental distress; and (7) Possible Interventions. All parents reported feeding-related stress and many expressed feelings of helplessness to improve these behaviors. Parents also shared concerns related to behavioral regressions due to the COVID-19 pandemic that affected their child's ongoing therapies. A multidisciplinary approach targeting individualized nutrition and feeding advice for their children was desired. A range of in-person and online interventions including cooking classes and parental vlogs was recommended.


      This study supports the need for nutrition education for parents caring for autistic children and access to evidence-based, individualized approaches for their child's needs from physicians, dietitians, therapists, and other healthcare providers. Future research should be directed at developing interventions that support and educate parents in improving their child's nutritional and health needs and optimizing coping strategies in parents.


      Texas Woman's University Research Enhancement Program


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