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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) – One in 44 children in the United States has autism, and as they get older and go out on their own, it can be difficult to stick to the healthy routines they’ve adopted during their childhood.

But there are some lessons parents can reinforce to put young adults with autism and intellectual disabilities back on a healthy path.

A yogurt-based fruit smoothie is Dustin Stein’s go-to snack. It’s a fairly recent change for him.

“I ate an entire container, an entire bag of marshmallows once,” Stein said.

Her mother said her eating habits deteriorated after high school.

“Dustin’s diet completely changed to ‘Let’s have a bunch of fries and pop’ and that was about it,” she said.

Young adults with autism are at higher risk for obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“Some of their medications tend to cause weight gain,” Dr. Laura Nabors said. “They may have food selectivity preferences for only certain foods and it may be carbohydrate-rich foods.”

Nabors oversees a healthy lifestyle program, emphasizing the MyPlate model – five food groups that are important parts of a daily diet.

She uses visual cues to explain portion sizes, like thinking of an inch as how much fat you should be eating. Two fists equal two servings of vegetables. One playing card is the size of one serving of protein.

At home, Nabors tells parents to involve young adults in food planning, shopping and preparation.

Now Dustin walks almost every night with his parents. And he’s curbing his sugar habit.

“I try to set a limit on the amount of cookies I eat in one sitting,” he said.

The University of Cincinnati researchers say that of the young adults in the program, 44% increased their vegetable intake, 70% reduced the soft drinks they drank, and more than 60% started walking or doing more exercise.

After: Health info

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