Food Purchasing Behavior of Food Insecure Cancer Patients Receiving Supplemental Food Vouchers



Food insecure cancer patients experience worse health outcomes and poorer quality of life than food secure patients. There has been little research in programs to alleviate food insecurity in cancer patients. The objective of this paper is to report on the food purchasing behaviors of cancer patients enrolled in a supplemental food voucher program.


This paper utilized data from a three-arm randomized controlled trial investigating the impact of food interventions on alleviating food insecurity in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. In one arm, patients received a monthly $230 voucher with which to purchase food. Receipts were collected for items purchased with the voucher and were coded to analyze purchasing behaviors.


Thirty-three patients provided receipts for more than 11,000 individual items. Patients spent 50% of voucher funds on animal protein, fruits, and vegetables. Patients spent, on average, 77% of voucher funds on items categorized as “healthy.”


Patients who received a food voucher purchased more fruits and vegetables than national averages would suggest. They also spent less on sweetened beverages than national samples. Patients who were born outside of the United States or who were limited English proficient purchased significantly more healthy foods than English-speaking and American-born study patients. Supplemental food vouchers for food insecure cancer patients resulted in the purchase of healthy food items.

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This study was supported by National Cancer Institute P30 CA008748 Core Cancer Center Support Grant; National Cancer Institute R01 CA230446 FOOD (Food to Overcome Outcomes Disparities); National Cancer Institute U54 CA137788 08; the CCNY/MSKCC Partnership for Cancer Research Training & Community Outreach; Laurie Tisch Illumination Fund; New York Community Trust; New York City Council; and Avon Foundation. Devika R. Jutagir was supported by T32 CA009461.

Author information




F.G., J.R., and N.R. designed the research; F.G., L.P., J.R., N. R., I. M., and J.S. conducted research; F.G., L.P., S. K., Y.L., M.W., and M.O. analyzed data; and F.G., L.P., D.J., and M.O. wrote the paper. F.G. had primary responsibility for final content. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Francesca Gany.

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This project received IRB approval from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and from each study site.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Paolantonio, L., Kim, S.Y., Ramirez, J. et al. Food Purchasing Behavior of Food Insecure Cancer Patients Receiving Supplemental Food Vouchers. Support Care Cancer 28, 3739–3746 (2020).

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  • Food insecurity
  • Cancer
  • Supplemental nutrition
  • Quality of life