Nutritional status of individuals with autism spectrum disorders: do we know enough?

Adv Nutr. 2015 Jul 15;6(4):397-407. doi: 10.3945/an.114.007914. Print 2015 Jul.


The incidence of individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) is on the rise; therefore, well-timed screening is important. Given that this is a nutritionally vulnerable population, it is imperative to conduct a detailed nutritional assessment so that timely and intensive interventions can be recommended. This review article summarizes the research, focusing on the nutritional status of individuals with ASDs based on their anthropometric measurements, biomarkers, and dietary assessments. Research examining anthropometric measurements reveals an abnormally accelerated rate of growth among children with autism but shows inconsistent findings on the prevalence of overweight/obesity in comparison with typically growing children. Although dysregulated amino acid metabolism, increased homocysteine, and decreased folate, vitamins B-6 and B-12, and vitamin D concentrations have been proposed as possible biomarkers for an early diagnosis of ASDs, research investigating their association with age, gender, severity, and other comorbid psychiatric/nonpsychiatric disorders is lacking. There is consensus that children with autism have selective eating patterns, food neophobia, limited food repertoire, and sensory issues. Although inadequate micronutrient but adequate macronutrient intakes are increasingly reported, there are inconsistent results about the extent and type of nutrient deficiencies. Identification and development of nutritional assessment indicators that serve as early warning signs during routine practice beginning at birth and extending throughout the child's growth are necessary. With this population aging, there is also a dire need to study the adult population. A more vigorous role by nutrition professionals is warranted because management of potential comorbidities and contributory factors may be particularly problematic.

Keywords: anthropometry; autism spectrum disorders; biochemical assessment; dietary assessment; nutritional assessment; nutritional status.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anthropometry
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / complications
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diet
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Micronutrients / deficiency
  • Middle Aged
  • Minerals / analysis
  • Nutrition Assessment
  • Nutritional Status*
  • Obesity / complications
  • Overweight / complications
  • Vitamins / blood


  • Micronutrients
  • Minerals
  • Vitamins