A study found that youngsters with Down syndrome prefer crispy, oily meals while avoiding fragile or sticky foods. These choices, however, may result in a less healthful diet.
The study’s findings were published in the Journal of Texture Studies. “Children with Down syndrome appreciate meals like Pirate’s Booty and puffed corn,” said Carolyn Ross, a food science professor at WSU. “Those foods aren’t particularly nutritious, but they’re easily digestible, which is a huge plus for these kids. The challenge now is to create nutritious foods with those characteristics.”
“This was a major gap in research,” Ross added. “There are numerous anecdotal instances, and you may uncover information by going down an internet rabbit hole. However, research like this one can assist parents and physicians predict what these children will consume and therefore prevent choking incidents. If we can improve the nutritional value of those foods, we will be able to help a lot of people.”
Choking is one of the top causes of mortality in persons with Down syndrome because they may not chew their food sufficiently or “pack” it, overfilling their mouths and cheeks without swallowing.
Youngsters with Down syndrome have more health problems than typically developing children, such as eating and swallowing difficulties and food texture sensitivity.
Ross hopes to provide more nutritious food alternatives for children with Down syndrome and to help them grow more comfortable with complex textures.
“We want to assist people understand what food textures children with Down syndrome enjoy and how to transition them from pureed foods to texturally complex foods that have higher nutritional value,” Ross said.
Ross and her team distributed boxes containing 16 commercially available types of food to 218 youngsters aged 11 to 18 across 30 states. One hundred and eleven of those boxes were given to children with Down syndrome, with the remainder going to a control group of generally developing youngsters.
To ensure that flavour was not the basis for a texture preference, the boxes contained four items in each of four distinct texture groups.
Before sending the boxes, the study team contacted parents about their hated flavours in order to avoid such goods. To ensure that enjoyment was not attributable to novelty, all youngsters in the research ate one of each item every day for a week.
The parents then videotaped their children interacting with and consuming each food, which they subsequently sent to the research team.
“We coded a lot of data; it’s the largest home-use test we’ve ever heard of involving children with Down syndrome,” Ross said. “There was also a significant variation in texture preferences between children with and without Down syndrome.”