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Eat Right, Stay Fit, Live Longer

CCH Newsletter - Summer 2011

The Optimizing Nutrition (ON) to Life program at the MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital started the year running and is on pace to promote healthy eating habits for pediatric cancer patients, survivors and their caregivers.

This multidisciplinary program is also recruiting for two new studies for children ages 7-18. Children in this age range are more aware of the foods they eat and are influenced by others around them, causing them to make changes more readily.

Pivotal to the ON to Life program are the educational and behavioral therapy components. They focus on informing patients, survivors and their caregivers about proper nutrition habits and physical activity with hopes of preventing health problems. Research indicates that a pattern of unhealthy eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle may persist beyond treatment and lead to obesity among pediatric cancer survivors.

What puts on the pounds?

Steroid therapy, chemotherapy component for pediatric cancer patients, causes an increase in appetite that may cause excess weight gain. With this in mind, patients receiving steroid treatment are eligible to receive tailored nutrition counseling provided by Rhea Li, registered dietitian for the ON to Life program. Monthly sessions are offered early on during treatment and are designed to meet the patient’s needs, including tailored diet plans and recipe modification. Patients ages 7-18, who are diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and receiving steroids within two weeks of initiating treatment, are eligible for this initiative.

Researching the issues

Beyond individual counseling, the ON to Life program is using a technological-based approach for research. In collaboration with the Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, the program is recruiting children to test an action-adventure video game. This game was originally designed for healthy children and resulted in an increase in fruit/vegetable intake and daily physical activity.

  • The purpose of the study is to determine if the game can be adapted for children with cancer and to introduce new characters with whom pediatric cancer patients may identify. Children are eligible to participate if they are:
    age 9-12,
  • diagnosed with ALL or lymphoma,
  • receive treatment on an outpatient status three to six months after diagnosis or are survivors off treatment for at least 12 months after remission, and
  • live in the Houston area.

The Children’s Cancer Hospital is also developing a resource for patients and the healthy community. A new Healthy Living section will soon be available on its website that will feature tips on healthy eating and an e-cookbook. Look for easy-to-follow recipes using everyday ingredients and nutrition analysis in the e-cookbook.

This work-in-progress will eventually provide a customizable database of recipes tailored to a child’s needs. MD Anderson is looking for nutritious recipes to include in the e-cookbook. Please refer to for submission and release forms. Other studies in the program include the ongoing Eat and Treat laboratory study designed to determine if well-nourished children have better outcomes to cancer treatment and better long-term growth. Patients with any type of cancer and age are eligible for this study.

Another study, Fit4Life, designed for children ages 7-18 diagnosed with ALL, is a cell phone and web-based nutrition intervention that recruited patients in April.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center