A new study by the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital found that adult survivors of childhood cancer exhibit low adherence to national dietary guidelines.
The study, published this Fall in the Journal of Nutrition, found a particularly low intake of whole grains and high intake of sodium, solid fats, and added sugars among a cohort of 2,570 adult survivors of childhood cancer. The average intake of whole grains, 1.2 servings a day, was less than half the 3 servings per day recommended by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Calories from added sugars and fats contributed 14 percent and 20 percent of total calories, respectively, while the guidelines advise that total percentage of calories from added sugars and solid fats not exceed 20 percent.
“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. Survivors consumed below the recommended amounts of fiber, potassium, magnesium, vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin E, and they exceeded recommended levels of sodium and saturated fats, according to lead researcher and author Fang Fang Zhang, MD, PhD, assistant professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. Consuming high levels of sodium and saturated fats have been found to increase risk factors for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Though this study did not compare survivors’ diets to those who did not have childhood cancer, a prior study by Zhang concluded that diet qualities of cancer survivors are lower than the general population, in terms of empty calories and fiber intake. Based on this study’s findings, authors emphasize the need to incorporate better nutritional services and interventions to promote healthier dietary habits during cancer treatment and beyond.