Study Suggests Link between Childhood Consumption of French Fries and Increased Risk of Breast Cancer in Adulthood

A study in the online edition of the International Journal of Cancer indicates that preschool girls who ate French fries on a regular basis exhibited an increased risk of developing breast cancer as adults.

The research focused on a health study of 582 nurses who had breast cancer and more than 1,500 who did not have the disease in 1993. Their mothers were asked how often the nurses had eaten 30 different foods as preschoolers.

The results showed that French fries were the only food that appeared to have an impact on breast cancer risk. Cheese, butter, eggs, ground beef, and cookies were found to have no adverse effects, while whole milk appeared to slightly lower the risk of breast cancer.

Karin Michels, ScD, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard Medical School and Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and her team concluded that for every additional weekly serving of French fries as preschoolers, the women’s risk of breast cancer as adults rose another 27%.

Michels claims the study is one of the first, if not the first, of its kind to look at the association between adult breast cancer risk and preschool diets.

Early diet is a concern for breast cancer later in life because cancer can take decades to develop and breast tissue is more vulnerable to harmful agents at a young age. 

The results of the study, while interesting, should be viewed critically, however, as the methodology had some significant limitations.

Obviously, the French fries were not tested for any cancer-causing properties. Moreover, the mothers who were interviewed were often quite old (60, 70, or even 80 and older) and may not have remembered accurately what their children had eaten on a regular basis so many years ago.

Furthermore, the mothers of those nurses with cancer may not have been able to be objective about the possible dietary conditions that caused it.

Michels acknowledges that the conclusions are preliminary and that she doesn’t know why French fries appear to have increased the risk of developing breast cancer while other foods did not.

It is possible that the saturated fats or trans fatty acids used to make French fries could have been the culprit but the preparation of the food changed over the forty years the study covered.

Older women may have eaten fries baked at home in lard, which is rich in saturated fats, while others may have eaten fast-food fries cooked in oils high in trans fatty acids.

Likewise, the apparent positive benefits of whole milk may not be reliable since milk now has higher concentrations of hormones.

Nevertheless, Michels believes the study demonstrates an undeniable association of early dietary patterns and later health consequences and underscores the importance of making sure children have a healthy diet in order to lower the risk of many diseases including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and possibly even cancer as adults.

I think this is just one more item that adds to the concern that parents should have about their child’s diet," she continues. "We already have a lot of concerns about children’s diets, given the obesity epidemic among children and the other chronic health outcomes."

According to Michels: "Parents have a particularly important role to ensure that their children have a healthy diet. There are plenty of reasons to watch children’s diets so that they grow into healthy adults and we are not raising a generation of children that then have a variety of chronic diseases, three, four, or five decades down the line.:

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