On a mission to support nutrition

Undergoing treatment for paediatric cancer is a daunting and often devastating process for both patients and their families. Between chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery and long-term hospital stays, diet and nutritional care can fall to the bottom of the priority list, yet children undergoing treatment are at an increased risk of growth and nutrition-related problems.

Thanks to support from Australian Dairy Farm, patients undergoing cancer care at The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) now have access to additional and ongoing support from a dedicated dietitian.

The Nutrition Outpatient Service for the Children’s Cancer Centre provides targeted nutrition support to tackle the common problems facing children with cancer including poor food intake, weight loss and growth failure, nutrient deficiencies, nausea, vomiting, taste changes and the development of fussy eating habits.

“We found that families are desperate for nutritional advice, anything from dietary advice to assisting with weight loss or weight gain, poor appetite, taste changes, fussy eating and management of tube feeding; there’s a massive need,” said Jodie Bartle, Clinical Specialist Dietitian.

The support of an additional dedicated dietitian means that now every child who commences treatment for cancer will have access to dedicated dietetic support through the service, including outpatients.

“Due to previously limited resources, inpatient services had been prioritised and we were unable to address the demand to nutritionally support all children with cancer at home. With this funding we are able to provide a dietitian each day to the outpatient service so all children can access the service. Families don’t need to make a prior appointment; a dietitian is there and able to assist as problems arise.”

As a result of the complex and aggressive nature of cancer treatment, the importance of good nutrition is being increasingly recognised.

“We are now able to be proactive and flag these issues on diagnosis before these problems occur,” Jodie said.

“By providing effective nutrition support for all children, we can keep them better hydrated and nourished, reducing the need for children to be admitted or re-admitted to hospital or needing IV nutrition support.”

Australian Dairy Farm, which specialises in the manufacturing and packaging of infant formula and milk powders, chose to support the Nutrition Outpatient Services for the Children’s Cancer Centre after becoming aware of the work the Centre undertakes. The organisation, which is based in Melbourne, supports a number of local charities.

“It was brought to our attention the importance of private, corporate and philanthropic support of the hospital’s medical and research programs…and the research project into the Nutrition Outpatients Services for children with cancer was an obvious choice,” said Michael Meade, Financial Controller from Australian Diary Park.

“We have been on board for 12 months and are educating our staff of our ongoing support of the RCH. We believe our employees are proud of the support we provide to the RCH.”

Jodie said the funding has been vital as the dietitian in the outpatient clinic is entirely philanthropically funded.

“Thanks to this ongoing funding we have been able to prioritise the dietician to go to outpatients. By providing this extra nutritional support we have been clearly able to provide better access to nutrition support and collect quality improvement research data to demonstrate improved health and treatment outcomes for children with cancer.”