Cancer Survivors Overestimate the Quality of their Diets, Finds First Study on the Topic
June 25, 2020 / by Danielle Hawkins
George Mason University study finds cancer survivors estimate a higher than actual intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, providing opportunities for interventions to improve cancer survival rates.
There are 15 million cancer survivors in the United States, and prior research has provided strong evidence that lifestyle interventions, such as diet and physical activity, are especially important in the long-term recovery of cancer survivors. Energy imbalance – when energy expenditure does not equal energy intake- and metabolic changes after cancer treatment can directly affect the risk of cancer relapse, progression, and mortality, making it critical for cancer patients and survivors to accurately estimate their dietary intake.
However, new research led by George Mason University’s College of Health and Human Services found that the majority of cancer survivors (56%) tend to overestimate the quality of their diets, increasing the risk of energy imbalance. They report a higher than actual intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and a lower than actual intake of empty calories.
Dr. Hong Xue led the study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “Our study is an important step in the fight against cancer,” explains Xue. “Now that we know the difference in perceived and actual diet quality among survivors, we can design tailored interventions to improve diets in this population. We know from earlier studies that this can reduce the risk of cancer relapse and improve long-term outcomes.”
Xue and colleagues analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2005-2014 on 2,361 cancer survivors and 23,114 participants who had not had cancer as a comparison group. They analyzed the nationally representative NHANES data combined with participants’ scores on the Healthy Eating Index (HEI) 2010, which measures adherence to dietary recommendations, as a measure of diet quality.
They found that cancer survivors’ diet quality has not improved over the past 10 years. Additionally, cancer survivors’ diets were generally poor as measured by the HEI, although healthier than the diets reported by the general population.
Older participants, those with higher incomes or levels of education, and Hispanic participants were more likely to overestimate their diet quality. Those who overrated their diet quality also had poorer diets overall than those who under-rated their diet quality.
This study was supported in part by research grants: P30 CA016059 “Massey Cancer Center Core Support” (NIH-NCI) and U54TR001366 “Racial Disparities in Breast Cancer Treatment and Outcomes: A Transdisciplinary Approach” (NCATS/CTSA). The content is the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funder.
About George Mason University
George Mason University is Virginia's largest and most diverse public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 38,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility. For more information, visit https://www2.gmu.edu/.
About the College of Health and Human Services
George Mason University's College of Health and Human Services prepares students to become leaders and shape the public's health through academic excellence, research of consequence and interprofessional practice. The College enrolls 1,917 undergraduate students and 950 graduate students in its nationally recognized offerings, including: 5 undergraduate degrees, 12 graduate degrees, and 11 certificate programs. The College is transitioning to a college public health in the near future. For more information, visit https://chhs.gmu.edu/.