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Access to Nutritious Food Affects Health of Childhood Cancer Survivors

Many people do not have regular access to healthy foods. This is known as “food insecurity.”

Pediatric oncologist Rahela Aziz-Bose, MD, studies how food insecurity affects childhood cancer patients and long-term survivors. Her recent work showed that food insecurity affected almost 1 in 3 families of patients in a clinical trial for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). The study took place at Boston Children’s Hospital/Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Food insecurity is common. About 2 in 5 adults in the United States cannot afford to buy healthy foods, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Rahela Aziz-Bose standing in a corn field

Rahela Aziz-Bose, MD, first saw the impact that lack of access to resources had on health when she worked at juvenile detention centers as a medical student. She and a classmate designed a health education course offered at 10 facilities.

A recent report from St. Jude LIFE showed that survivors who had access to resources for good health, such as nutritious food, live longer than people who do not.

Poor nutrition raises the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity. A healthy diet can help manage these conditions. But many patients have trouble getting nutritious food.

Aziz-Bose saw this situation when she worked in primary care clinics in West Philadelphia.

“Patients faced barriers getting to clinic to pick up their medications and to put food on the table,” Aziz-Bose said. “It led me to recognize that there is a lot at play in people’s health outside of the clinic and hospital. If we want to help childhood cancer survivors achieve the best health they can, we need to pay attention to these factors too.”

Aziz-Bose and her team are designing a program that will provide healthy meal kits to patients. The program will also help them apply to government food programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

If you need help with food, talk to your health care team. They can help you find resources. You may qualify for food programs such as SNAP and/or Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Another resource is Feeding America, a national network of free food sources. Visit

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