Background: Survivors of childhood cancer are at increased risk for osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and second malignancies-conditions for which modifiable risk factors are recognized and lifestyle interventions have shown benefit. Although some data regarding health behaviors of this population exist, receptivity to health promotion is largely unknown.
Methods: A survey was mailed to 380 survivors (age range, 11-33 years) of childhood leukemia, lymphoma, or central nervous system carcinomas (and guardians of survivors < 18 years old) to elicit data on exercise, dietary intake of calcium, fat, and fruits and vegetables, smoking status, readiness to pursue lifestyle change, quality of life, and interest in various health interventions.
Results: Responses from 209 survivors (a 55% response rate) suggested that most did not meet guidelines for fruit and vegetable consumption (79%), calcium intake (68%), or exercise (52%), 42% were overweight/obese, and 84% consumed > 30% of calories from fat. Older (> 18 years) compared with younger (< 18 years) survivors were more likely to smoke (17% vs. 1%), to be obese (21.6% vs. 14.6%), and to have suboptimal calcium intakes (75.6% vs. 57.6%). No differences in lifestyle behaviors were observed between cancer groups. Compared with interventions aimed at weight control, improving self-esteem, or smoking cessation, the highest levels of interest were found consistently for interventions aimed at getting in shape and eating healthy. Survivors preferred mailed interventions to those delivered in-person, by telephone counselors, or via computers.
Conclusions: Survivors of childhood cancer practiced several suboptimal health behaviors. Health promotion interventions aimed at areas of interest and delivered through acceptable channels have the potential to improve long-term health and function of this vulnerable population.