Maintaining Healthy Lifestyles in Young Adult Cancer Survivors

Young adult cancer survivors with mental health struggles, such as anxiety, stress and depression, may be more likely to have increased sugar intake and eating beliefs, as well as reduced vegetable intake, according to research published in Nutrients that investigated the relationship between mental health and lifestyle behaviors within young adult cancer survivors.

Nutrition is shown to influence psychical and mental health within young adult cancer survivors, and tailoring a diet to a patient’s needs can be beneficial. Healthy lifestyle behaviors, specifically in young adult cancer survivors, is important to follow, based on genetics and lifestyle according to the study authors.

“Our findings suggest that health behavior interventions for this population, especially dietary interventions, might benefit from stress management or mind-body components like mindful eating, said Acadia W. Buro, an assistant professor in the college of Population Health at the University of New Mexico, in a recent interview with CURE®.

The study focused on survey data from 225 young adult cancer survivors who were diagnosed with cancer between the ages of 18 and 39 and could read and speak English. Patients were measured within a series of questions that analyzed stress, anxiety, depression, eating beliefs, dietary intake and psychical activity. Other factors included age, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, education level, household income, cancer type, time since cancer diagnosis, cancer stage when diagnosed, type of cancer therapy received, time since cancer treatment, and comorbidities, according to the study.

“Our study had some limitations, like its cross-sectional design and reliance on self-reported data. To gain a better understanding of these findings and the direction of these associations, we need future studies that utilize longitudinal designs and direct measures of health behaviors,” explained Buro.

Most patients within the study were over 30 years old, more than four years post-diagnosis, white or Black or African American, non-Hispanic and women.

Stress, anxiety and depression correlated with eating beliefs and increased sugar intake, according to results from the study. Stress and anxiety were also correlated to psychical activity, alongside vegetable intake throughout patients. Depression correlated most with fruit intake in patients.

“Eating habits were more strongly associated with mental health than physical activity in this study. Perceived stress and anxiety were associated with lower physical activity in preliminary analyses but not after adjusting for sociodemographic characteristics,” explained Buro.

When it comes to adjusting age, gender, race and income, stress, anxiety and depression didn’t correlate with fruit intake and psychical activity. Fruit and vegetable intake was beneficial to older individuals within the study; women benefitted from vegetable intake, which correlated with added sugar intake and psychical activity. Non-white patients within the study correlated with vegetable intake and those with lower income correlated with fruit intake.

These overall results showed that mental health within young adult cancer survivors need to be investigated, especially when taking into consideration the intake of sugar and vegetables alongside psychical activity occurrence.

“We also had a qualitative part of the study that explored experiences and unmet needs related to stress, diet and physical activity in young adult cancer survivors. We found unmet needs regarding social and environmental stressors, including health and health care, economic stability, social and community context and balancing responsibilities. Taken together, our findings suggest that health behavior interventions for this population, especially dietary interventions, might benefit from stress management or mind-body components like mindful eating,” Buro stated.

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