Food selectivity in a diverse sample of young children with and without intellectual disabilities

Appetite. 2019 Feb 1:133:433-440. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2018.11.016. Epub 2018 Nov 20.


Children with developmental concerns are more likely to be referred to feeding clinics for food selectivity than typically developing (TD) children. However, there is limited research on food selectivity in children with intellectual disabilities (ID). Fifty-nine TD children and 56 children with ID ages 3-8 years participated in the Children's Mealtime Study to compare food selectivity, conceptualized as food refusal and narrow food repertoire, among TD children and children with ID. Parents completed a 119-item food frequency questionnaire. Food refusal rate was calculated as the number of foods the child refused of those offered. Food repertoire, comprising the number of unique foods eaten, was determined from a 3-day food record. Compared to TD children, among children with ID the food refusal rate was significantly higher (28.5% vs. 15.7%) and mean food repertoire significantly narrower (20.7 vs. 24.2 unique foods) (p < 0.01). Approximately 10% of children with ID and approximately 4% of TD children reported eating no fruit on any of the three days of food intake recording, and approximately 10% of children with ID compared to approximately 2% of TD children reported no vegetable intake on any of the three days. In further analyses, we examined the two measures of food selectivity among children with both ID and probable autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (by the Autism Spectrum Rating Scale) compared to children with ID only and to TD children. Food selectivity appeared to be primarily attributable to those children who also had a probable diagnosis of ASD. These findings support the need for screening for food selectivity of children with ID, particularly those who also have ASD. Children who exhibit food selectivity should be referred for further evaluation and intervention.

Keywords: Children; Food refusal; Food selectivity; Intellectual disability; Nutrient adequacy; Vegetables.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Food Preferences*
  • Fruit
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability*
  • Male
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Vegetables