Food texture key to eating habits in children with Down syndrome

Children with Down syndrome prefer food with a crispy, oily mouthfeel and don’t like brittle or gooey foods. But those preferences can lead to a less nutritious diet, according to Washington State University research published in the Journal of Texture Studies.

“Children with Down syndrome really enjoy foods like Pirate’s Booty and puffed corn,” said Carolyn Ross, a professor in WSU’s School of Food Science. “Those foods aren’t of high nutritional value, but they’re dissolvable — a huge plus for these children. Now the challenge is making nutritious foods with those characteristics.”

The paper examined what food textures children with Down syndrome liked or didn’t like and how those preferences compared to typically developing children’s preferences.

In the U.S., one in 772 babies (around 5,100 each year), are born with Down syndrome, a genetic condition caused by a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21. Feeding and swallowing impairments are common, and a key predictor of increased death among those individuals.

It’s been known for years that children with Down syndrome don’t eat as much as typically developing children, but nobody has studied food textures as a factor. This research could help clinicians and parents determine what foods will get eaten, while hopefully prompting food manufacturers to tailor products to this population’s specific needs, Ross said.

“This was a huge area of missing research,” Ross said. “There are many anecdotal stories, and you can go down an online rabbit hole to find information. But studies like this can help parents and clinicians know what these children will be most likely to eat and help reduce incidence of choking. If we can add nutritional value to those foods, then we’ll really help a lot of people.”

Choking is one of the leading causes of death among people with Down syndrome because they may not chew food enough or “pack” it, overfilling their mouths and cheeks without swallowing.

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