Your Health: Building healthy eating habits in people with autism

Young adults with autism are at higher risk for obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Published: Sep. 1, 2022 at 5:41 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - One in 44 children in the United States has autism, and as they get older and go out on their own, sticking to the healthy routines they adopted during childhood can be tough.

But there are some lessons parents can reinforce to put young adults with autism and intellectual disabilities back on a healthy path.

A yogurt-based fruit smoothie is Dustin Stein’s go-to snack. It’s a pretty recent change for him.

“I ate a whole container, a whole bag of marshmallows one time,” Stein said.

His mother said his eating habits went downhill after high school.

“Dustin’s diet completely changed to ‘Let’s have a bunch of French fries and soft drinks’ and that was about it,” she said.

Young adults with autism are at higher risk for obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“Some of their medications tend to cause increased weight,” said Dr. Laura Nabors. “They may have some food selectivity preferences for just certain foods and it could be high carb foods.”

Nabors oversees a healthy lifestyle program, emphasizing the MyPlate model – five food groups that are important parts of a daily diet.

She uses visual cues to explain portions, like think of a thumb as the amount of fats you should eat. Two fists equals two portions of vegetables. A playing card is the size of a serving of protein.

At home, Nabors tells parents to involve young adults in planning, shopping and food prep.

Now, Dustin walks with his parents most nights. And he’s curbing his sugar habit.

“I try to set a limit on how much cookies I eat in one sitting,” he said.

The University of Cincinnati researchers say of the young adults in the program, 44% increased their veggie intake, 70% reduced the soft drinks they drank and more than 60% began walking or exercising more.

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