Objective: To describe parent-reported feeding dysfunction and its association with health and nutritional status in children with cerebral palsy.
Design: Anthropometry was measured and z scores calculated. The Child Health Questionnaire was used to assess health status, and a categorical scale (none to severe) was used to classify subjects according to severity of feeding dysfunction.
Subjects: 230 children (9.7+/-4.6 years; 59% boys) with moderate to severe cerebral palsy were recruited from 6 centers in the United States and Canada.
Statistical analyses: Descriptive statistics, the Kruskal-Wallis and Pearson chi2 tests.
Results: Severity of feeding dysfunction was strongly associated with indicators of poor health and nutritional status. The mean weight z scores were -1.7, -2.5, -3.3, and -1.8 among children with none, mild, moderate, or severe (largely tube-fed) feeding dysfunction, respectively (P= .003). Similar results were observed for height z score (P=.008), triceps z score (P=.03), and poor Global Health score (part of the Child Health Questionnaire) (P<.001). Subjects who were tube fed were taller (P=.014) and had greater body fat stores (triceps z score, P=.001) than orally fed subjects with similar motor impairment. For subjects exclusively fed by mouth, a dose-response relationship was observed between feeding dysfunction severity and poor nutritional status. Subjects with only mild feeding dysfunction had reduced triceps z score (-0.9) compared with those with no feeding problems (-0.3).
Conclusion: For children with moderate to severe cerebral palsy, feeding dysfunction is a common problem associated with poor health and nutritional status. Even children with only mild feeding dysfunction, requiring chopped or mashed foods, may be at risk for poor nutritional status. Parental report of feeding dysfunction with a structured questionnaire may be useful in screening children for nutritional risk.