A clear-liquid diet is commonly used after a nil per os (NPO) order in children recovering from acute gastrointestinal (GI) illnesses. Our purpose for this study was to compare outcomes in patients receiving a clear-liquid diet after an NPO order with outcomes in those receiving a regular diet.
In this retrospective cohort study, patients aged 1 to 18 years admitted to a tertiary care children’s hospital between 2016 and 2017 were screened to identify those who had an NPO order placed for acute GI illnesses. Patients with complex medical needs, a feeding disorder, or chronic GI disorders were excluded.
Of 39 total patients, 17 (44%) received a clear-liquid diet after an NPO order. There was no difference in diet tolerance between patients receiving a clear-liquid diet and those receiving a regular diet on the basis of emesis in the first 12 hours (P = .40), pain scores after the first oral intake (P = .86), return to clear-liquid diet (P = .57), or return to NPO status (P > .99). Patients started on a clear-liquid diet had a longer length of stay (LOS) after diet initiation compared with those receiving a regular diet (median: 43.7 hours [interquartile range: 29.8–53.4] vs median: 20.8 hours [interquartile range 6.7–47.3]), both in the univariate analysis (P = .01) and after controlling for age, diagnosis category, and pain score before and after the first oral intake (P = .03).
Patients transitioned to a clear-liquid diet after NPO status have a longer LOS after the first oral intake independent of patient age, diagnosis, and pretransition abdominal pain. Both groups had similar diet tolerance, suggesting that transition to a regular diet after NPO status may decrease LOS without significant adverse effects.