Feeding Program at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Provides Evidence-Based Intervention

ATLANTA (June 26, 2020) – Without access to effective treatment, children who continually refuse to eat may experience growth delays, decreased cognitive ability and compromised immune function. To help overcome these medical and developmental complications, William Sharp, PhD, a Psychologist and Director of the Multidisciplinary Feeding Program at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, recently completed a five-year retrospective analysis of an intensive multidisciplinary intervention for children with avoidant-restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID). After this intervention, 7n in 10 patients no longer needed a feeding tube.

“This model represents one of the first standardized approaches to treatment that may be replicated to allow children greater access to evidenced-based feeding intervention,” said Dr. Sharp, who also serves as an Associate Professor in the Emory University School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics.

ARFID is a feeding disorder complicated by medical, developmental, behavioral and oral-motor skill concerns. Child temperament, pain or discomfort with feeding, negative experiences with feeding or negative experiences related to the mouth may all contribute to the development of a feeding disorder. ARFID affects about 5% of children in the U.S., but few clinics specialize in its treatment.

“The lack of intervention guidelines outlining the steps and procedures involved in advancing oral intake represents a major hurdle for opening more clinics to treat this pediatric population,” Dr. Sharp said. “Treatment manuals represent an important and necessary prerequisite to replicate and evaluate treatment access settings.”

Developed over the past 12 years, the Multidisciplinary Feeding Program’s intensive multidisciplinary treatment model combines daily behavioral intervention and parent training with nutrition therapy, oral-motor therapy and medical oversight. The retrospective study evaluating the program, “Intensive Multidisciplinary Intervention for Young Children With Feeding Tube Dependence and Chronic Food Refusal: An Electronic Health Record Review,” was published in the Journal of Pediatrics. The analysis included 81 patients ages 10 months to 19 years who relied exclusively on a feeding tube for most nutrition and whose previous treatments were unsuccessful. They received four meals each day over five days a week for two months or more. At discharge, their oral nutrition intake increased by 70% and food refusal decreased by 68%. At follow-up appointments, 72% of patients were completely weaned from their feeding tube.

“This level of daily service combined with our treatment methodology allows for an accelerated rate of recovery,” Dr. Sharp said. “Now, we aim to package the intervention model and test it on a larger scale in new treatment settings.”

Based on the success of the model, the Multidisciplinary Feeding Program is increasing access to care at Children’s to meet a significant unmet need in Georgia. In addition to its location at the Marcus Autism Center, the program has increased capacity by more than 200% after expanding to offer services at the Children’s Center for Advanced Pediatrics.

For more information:

Julie Kuchta

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta


About Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

As the only freestanding pediatric healthcare system in Georgia, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is the trusted leader in caring for kids. The not-for-profit organization’s mission is to make kids better today and healthier tomorrow through more than 60 pediatric specialties and programs, top healthcare professionals, and leading research and technology. Children’s is one of the largest pediatric clinical care providers in the country, managing more than one million patient visits annually at three hospitals, Marcus Autism Center, the Center for Advanced Pediatrics, urgent care centers and neighborhood locations. Consistently ranked among the top children’s hospitals by U.S. News & World Report, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has impacted the lives of kids in Georgia, across the United States and around the world for more than 100 years thanks to generous support from the community.

About Emory University School of Medicine

About Emory University School of Medicine
Emory University School of Medicine is a leading institution with the highest standards in education, biomedical research and patient care, with a commitment to recruiting and developing a diverse group of students and innovative leaders. Emory School of Medicine has more than 3,400 full- and part-time faculty, 592 medical students, 497 allied health students in five programs, 1,388 residents and fellows in 115 accredited programs, and 92 MD/PhD students. Medical school faculty received $588.4 million in external research funding in fiscal year 2022. The school is best known for its research and treatment in infectious disease, brain health, heart disease, cancer, transplantation, orthopaedics, pediatrics, renal disease, ophthalmology and geriatrics.

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