Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the fastest growing developmental disability affecting more than 2 million US children and tens of millions worldwide. Children with ASD are 5 times more likely to have mealtime challenges and be picky eaters, which in part has been attributed to restrictive and ritualistic behaviors and heightened sensory sensitivity. These nutritional difficulties pose significant every day challenges for caregivers when it comes to child feeding and daily eating routines and call for new and innovative ways to promote healthy eating in children affected by ASD. The use of mobile technologies is rapidly increasing in children across all age groups. Children with ASD, in particular, often engage with mobile devices on a daily basis and mobile health (mHealth) technology has been shown to be an effective tool for improving behavioral, social, and communication skills in children with ASD.
We aim to harness the lure of technology and develop and test, for the first time, the feasibility and acceptability of an interactive mHealth nutrition intervention for children with ASD. This intervention will build upon core behavior change strategies that have been empirically tested in family-based nutrition research for over 3 decades.
A second aim of this project is to test, in a 3- month randomized controlled trial, the efficacy of the mHealth intervention on changing consumption of targeted healthy and less healthy foods and beverages in 6- to 10-year-old children with ASD who are picky eaters. Primary outcomes of this proof-of-concept trial will include 3-month changes in children's daily intake of fruits and vegetables, salty and sugary snacks, and sugar-sweetened beverages. Secondary outcomes will include parent and child engagement with the mHealth technology, motivation, user friendliness and ease of use. If successful, the use of this innovative mHealth nutrition intervention will offer new and powerful targets for intervention in improving dietary intake and the fight against childhood obesity in this especially vulnerable population of children.

Public Health Relevance

The high prevalence of mealtime difficulties and obesity among children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) calls for new and innovative ways to promote healthy eating and weight development in this population. The proposed project aims to develop and test, for the first time, an interactive mobile health (mHealth) nutrition intervention, which incorporates core behavior change strategies that have been empirically tested in family-based nutrition research and behavioral interventions with children with ASD. The feasibility and efficacy of this mHealth intervention to improve dietary outcomes in children with ASD will be tested in a proof-of-concept randomized controlled trial.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Psychosocial Risk and Disease Prevention Study Section (PRDP)
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Kau, Alice S
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University of Pennsylvania
Other Health Professions
Schools of Nursing
United States
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