Study Recommends Nutritional Intervention for Survivors of Childhood Cancer

October 19, 2016

Diets lacking essential nutrients can exacerbate chronic conditions in survivors of childhood cancer and dietary interventions might be necessary to reduce morbidities in this population.

Diets lacking essential nutrients can exacerbate chronic conditions in survivors of childhood cancer, and dietary interventions might be necessary to reduce morbidities in this population, according to the findings from a study published in The Journal of Nutrition.

Researchers at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital evaluated the dietary patterns of over 2500 adult survivors of childhood cancer, using a survey, and compared them with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The Healthy Eating Index-2010 (HEI-2010) was calculated to quantify diet quality.

Compared with the Dietary Reference intakes, a majority of survivors were found to consume inadequate amounts of vitamins D and E (27% and 54% of the recommended intake), potassium (58%), fiber (59%), magnesium (84%), and calcium (90%). However, their diet included an excess of sodium and saturated fats (155% and 115% of the recommended intake). The survey found that the survivors consumed less than half the recommended intake of whole grains (1.2 instead of 3 servings per day). Whereas the Dietary Guidelines recommend total calories from added sugars and solid fats be less than 20%, but among childhood survivors, added sugars contributed 14% of daily calories and solid fats, 20%.

Commenting on the adverse effects of such a diet on the well-being of the studied population, Fang Fang Zhang, MD, PhD, assistant professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, said in a statement, “Healthy eating can improve the physical and mental functioning of childhood cancer survivors. Our findings support the need to incorporate nutrition into cancer care."

When segregated by age, the study found that survivors who were younger than 5 years when diagnosed had a lower quality diet, as did survivors who received a high dose of radiation treatment in their abdominal area.

“Survivors of childhood cancer have a high prevalence of chronic health problems that may be exacerbated by poor nutrition," said Melissa Hudson, MD, director of the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Division of Cancer Survivorship. "The findings of this study emphasize the importance of integrating nutritional services and interventions to promote healthy dietary habits in childhood cancer patients during treatment and throughout survivorship care."

“Long-term childhood cancer survivors have poor adherence to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” the researchers concluded. "Findings reinforce the need to incorporate nutrition into cancer care to improve diet quality and to reduce morbidities."

Reference

Zhang FF, Ojha RP, Krull KR, et al. Adult survivors of childhood cancer have poor adherence to Dietary Guidelines [published online October 19, 2016]. J Nutr. doi: 10.3945/​jn.116.238261.