Persistent Picky Eating: Investigating the Developmental Phenomenon in Autistic and Non-autistic Young Adults
Picky eating is a common and well-documented phenomenon among autistic children. This behavior is driven by a complex integration of systems spanning sensory, biological, social, and other factors. While extant research has clearly demonstrated that picky eating is a significant concern, studies thus far have focused on measuring specific individual aspects of picky eating like refusal of new foods or variety of foods in one’s diet. This variability in measurement results an incomplete understanding of the factors that may contribute to and maintain picky eating, thus reducing accurate identification of and development of evidence-based interventions for picky eaters. Moreover, prior research in this area has focused almost exclusively on children, and little is known about the persistence of food pickiness into young adulthood. Persistent picky eating in young adulthood has the potential to lead to more significant health concerns such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, or increased anxiety, thus making it critical to identify who may be at risk. The present study aims to address these limitations by examining food pickiness in autistic and non-autistic young adults using self-report measures of multiple indicators of picky eating. Specific aims will employ multilevel statistics to test the following hypotheses: 1) food pickiness is best conceptualized using four measures including self-reported food pickiness, individual food selectivity, global food selectivity (e.g., different tastes or textures), and food neophobia (fear of trying new foods), 2) autistic young adults will report greater picky eating than those without autism, and 3) greater levels of restrictive and repetitive behaviors and/or interests will contribute to the relationship between autism and food pickiness. This novel study will help identify the nature of picky eating in autistic young adults with the long-term goal of informing future research aimed at better identification of this behavior and development of interventions to mitigate long-term outcomes resulting from picky eating.