Diet quality of cancer survivors and noncancer individuals: Results from a national survey

Cancer. 2015 Dec 1;121(23):4212-21. doi: 10.1002/cncr.29488. Epub 2015 Oct 13.


Background: Patterns of poor nutritional intake may exacerbate the elevated morbidity experienced by cancer survivors. It remains unclear whether cancer survivors adhere to existing dietary guidelines and whether survivors' diets differ from those of individuals without cancer over the long term.

Methods: The authors evaluated dietary intake and quality in 1533 adult cancer survivors who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999 to 2010 compared with dietary intake and quality in 3075 individuals who had no history of cancer and were matched to the cancer survivors by age, sex, and race/ethnicity. Dietary intake was assessed using 24-hour dietary recalls. The 2010 Healthy Eating Index (HEI-2010) was used to evaluate diet quality.

Results: The mean ± standard deviation HEI-2010 total score was 47.2 ± 0.5 in the cancer survivors and 48.3 ± 0.4 in the noncancer group (P = .03). Compared with the noncancer group, cancer survivors had a significantly lower score for empty calories (13.6 vs 14.4; P = .001), which corresponded to worse adherence to dietary intake of calories from solid fats, alcohol, and added sugars. Cancer survivors also had significantly lower dietary intake of fiber than the noncancer group (15.0 vs 15.9 g per day; P = .02). In relation to recommended intake, survivors' mean dietary intake of vitamin D, vitamin E, potassium, fiber, and calcium was 31%, 47%, 55%, 60%, and 73%, respectively; whereas their mean dietary intake of saturated fat and sodium was 112% and 133%, respectively, of the recommended intake.

Conclusions: Cancer survivors had poor adherence to the US Department of Agriculture 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and their intake patterns were worse than those in the general population for empty calories and fiber.

Keywords: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey; cancer survivors; diet quality; nutrition; quality of life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Dietary Fiber / administration & dosage
  • Female
  • Guideline Adherence / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / complications*
  • Nutrition Assessment
  • Nutritional Status*
  • Survivors
  • United States
  • Young Adult