Study: 1 in 4 Families of Children With Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Face Food Insecurity

Receiving benefits from the SNAP program does not alleviate the issue, according to the analysis.

Nearly 1 in 4 families of children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) experienced food insecurity, according to the results of a study presented at the 15th American Association for Cancer Research Conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic Minorities and the Medically Underserved.

Additionally, almost half the families eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) did not receive benefits, and the benefits from SNAP were not sufficient to address food insecurity, investigators found.

“Food insecurity is connected to worse health outcomes in general pediatrics,” said Rahela Aziz-Bose, MD, a pediatric oncology fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, said in a statement. “It is incredibly important to understand whether patients who are being treated for cancer are experiencing food insecurity, because it is a risk factor on which we can intervene, and we can potentially improve outcomes.”

The investigators analyzed the prevalence of food insecurity and being low income among a group of individuals with ALL who were enrolled in the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/ALL Consortium clinical trial at 6 cancer centers across the United States between 2017 and 2022.

Parent-reported data on income at diagnosis and at 6 months into therapy was used to identify families who were eligible for SNAP.

Households with income lower than 130% of the federal poverty level are eligible for SNAP, according to federal guidelines.

Investigators used statistical methods to study the association between parent-reported food insecurity, SNAP eligibility, and SNAP receipt.

They found that 21% of 262 families reported food insecurity at diagnosis, and 25% of 223 families reported it 6 months into therapy.

At diagnosis, 20% of families were eligible for SNAP. Of those, 60% reported food insecurity, but just 53% were receiving SNAP benefits. Investigators observed a similar scenario in the 6-month group, where 28% of families were eligible for SNAP, with 58% reporting food insecurity and 58% receiving SNAP.

Among the 33 families that were eligible for SNAP at both times, the fraction of those receiving SNAP benefits increased to 70% from 52%, investigators found.

“It is promising that we could help some of the families who were eligible at diagnosis to enroll and receive benefits,” Aziz-Bose said.

“However, there were families who became newly eligible between the 2 time points and were not receiving benefits at 6 months, highlighting that poverty is a dynamic state⁠. Families can move from 1 category to another as they progress through treatment, especially as the effects of out-of-pocket payments, transportation to visits, and lost income from a parent/caregiver having to give up a job all add up,” Aziz-Bose said.

The study results also showed receiving SNAP benefits was not enough to address food insecurity, with more 61% of families who received benefits still experiencing food insecurity at diagnosis and 56% experiencing it 6 months into therapy.

The main limitation of the study was that SNAP eligibility could only be assessed through self-reported income, investigators said.

Reference

Many US families of children with leukemia may experience food insecurity that is not alleviated by federal assistance program. News release. AACR. September 16, 2022. Accessed September 16, 2022. Email.