What is a feeding disorder?
A child is considered to suffer from a feeding disorder when he or she refuses to consume a sufficient amount or variety of food to maintain proper nutrition. Feeding problems can range from occasional missed meals to severe malnourishment and failure to thrive, and affect both normally developing children and children with developmental disabilities. In severe cases, children may become dependant on gastrostomy (stomach) or nasogastric (nasal) feeding tubes for supplemental feedings. Left untreated, long-term feeding disorders can lead to severe health problems as well as parent/child conflict, mental health problems, increased risk of eating disorders (i.e. anorexia) and increased health care costs.
What causes feeding disorders?
Many factors, both biological and environmental, can lead to feeding disorders in children. Past experiences with medical procedures, hospitalization or medical problems that caused eating to be painful can lead to chronic feeding problems. For others, oral motor problems such as difficulty swallowing or negative “consequences” of eating (i.e. acid reflux and heartburn) can result in a refusal to eat. Once malnourishment becomes a factor, children may lack the energy and effort needed to become capable eaters and intensive medical intervention becomes necessary.