When it comes to food, kids with Down syndrome have definite likes and dislikes -- and a food's texture is crucial.
Food with a crispy, oily mouthfeel generally get a big thumbs-up, while brittle or gooey foods get a thumbs-down.
But picky food choices can result in a less healthful diet, so researchers wanted to better understand how texture affects eating for people with Down syndrome and how to help improve nutrition.
"We want to help people understand what food textures children with Down syndrome prefer, and how to move them from things like pureed foods to texturally complex foods, which tend to have more nutritional value," said lead author Carolyn Ross. She's a professor of food science at Washington State University.
To learn more, Ross and her team sent boxes of 16 commercially available foods to 218 children aged 11 to 18. The participants included 111 kids with Down syndrome and the rest with typical development.
Each box had four items from four different texture groups to prevent confusion about flavor being what caused the preference. Families also let researchers know in advance about disliked flavors so those could be avoided.
Kids ate one of each item every day for a week -- a frequency chosen to rule out enjoyment because of novelty. As kids ate, their parents shot video, which they sent to the study team.
Ross said the study showed a big difference in texture preference between kids with and without Down syndrome.
Children with Down syndrome really like puffed corn treats and other low-nutrition snacks, she said. "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," Ross said in a university news release.
About 5,100 babies are born with Down syndrome in the United States each year. The condition is genetic, caused by a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21.
Challenges include feeding and swallowing impairments that can increase risk of choking, a leading cause of death among people with Down syndrome.
"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 incidences of choking. If we can add nutritional value to those foods, then we'll really help a lot of people."
Ross said the research may prompt food manufacturers to tailor products to this population.
The findings were recently published in the Journal of Texture Studies.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more information on Down syndrome.
SOURCE: Washington State University, news release, Aug. 29, 2022