Previous literature shows an increased risk for eating disorders in autistic individuals. This study tested whether fussy eating contributes to the association between childhood autistic traits and adolescent eating disorder behaviours.
Using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, we estimated the intercept and slope of parent-rated autistic traits and fussy eating between 7 and 14 years (N = 8982) and their association with self-reported eating disorder behaviours at age 14 years, including the indirect path from autistic traits to eating disorder behaviours via fussy eating. Analyses were adjusted for child sex, maternal age at delivery, maternal body mass index and maternal education.
Analyses found a small indirect pathway from autistic traits intercept to eating disorder behaviours via fussy eating slope (b = 0.017, 95% CI = 0.002–0.032, p = 0.026), with higher levels of autistic traits at age 7 years being associated with a shallower decline in fussy eating, which in turn was associated with greater eating disorder behaviours.
Findings point towards fussy eating as a potential link between childhood autistic traits and later disordered eating. Addressing fussy eating patterns before they become entrenched may decrease risk for eating disorders later in development.