Nutritional assessment and intervention in children with severe neurological disabilities
Providing adequate nutrition to children with severe neurological disabilities is extremely difficult due to the high prevalence of oral-motor dysfunction in this group. Short stature and light weight for height are common in disabled children and undernutrition is believed to play a role in this poor growth. This programme of study investigated the effect of gastrostomy-tube feeding in disabled children with oral-motor dysfunction and evaluated the energy balance and body composition of disabled children fed both orally and via gastrostomy-tube over twelve months. The Quality of Life of the children and their carers was also evaluated. Energy intake was measured using three-day dietary diaries and energy expenditure with indirect calorimetry and doubly labelled water. Total body water using oxygen-18 dilution was used to evaluate body composition along with standard anthropometry. Improved growth, nutritional status and general health were seen at six and twelve months after gastrostomy-tube placement. The Quality of Life of the children and their carers also significantly increased. Both energy intake and energy expenditure were found to be lower than reference standards, but energy balance was positive indicating that inadequate nutrition was not the sole cause of poor growth. Body composition was also found to be significantly different from reference. Fat-free mass was significantly low for age and for height. Fat mass was higher in gastrostomy-tube fed children, but lower or normal in disabled children fed orally. Physical activity levels were low for the entire group of disabled children yet the gastrostomy-tube fed children displayed much higher levels of disability. Gastrostomy-tube feeding has a positive impact upon the growth, health and Quality of Life of disabled children and their carers. Careful follow-up is critical in order to optimize health and body composition.