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On June 13, 2017, AARP (the American Association of Retired Persons) released an article titled “Your Fries May Be Deadly,” by Cheryl Bond-Nelms, stating that a recent study links frequent consumption of French fries to a higher mortality risk.

Several sources have taken issue with the article and the original study itself, published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The study, which analyzed the dietary habits of 4,400 people, ages 45 to 79, focused on how often participants ate potatoes, fried or not.

Researchers found that people who consumed fried potatoes, specifically hash browns, French fries and tater tots, at least twice a week, could more than double their risk of premature death.

The article published by AARP goes on to state, “And the most shocking result was that, by the end of the study, 236 participants had died.”

That statement, however, is immediately followed by a quote from Beth Warren, author of Living a Real Life with Real Food, who said, “I don’t think they died from eating French fries alone, but most likely the habit meant they also indulged in other high-risk eating behaviors.”

Unhealthy Lifestyle

Warren continued, “It seems that those people in the study who consumed fried potatoes at least twice per week were more likely to have an overall unhealthy lifestyle.”

Jim Schuh of The Portage County Gazette took issue with the article. “I was astounded to read an article from Healthy Living in an AARP email headlined ‘Your Fries May Be Deadly,’” Schuh wrote.

“AARP should be ashamed of posting the article. It’s plain that, after reading it, we should be skeptical of things, even if they come from ‘reliable’ sources.”

“Around these parts,” Schuh added, “potato growers are a decent lot and help our economy. They grow a good product. Their product doesn’t deserve being singled out for criticism resulting from questionable research.”

Schuh not only questions the link between eating fried potatoes and an increased mortality risk, but also points to a quote in the article that says, “Additional studies in larger sample sizes should be performed to confirm if overall potato consumption is associated with higher mortality risk.”

“In other words, the first study’s conclusions are not certain,” he remarks. “AARP should never have published the article since it could damage the potato industry unnecessarily.”

Fake News

Adding to what Warren said about participants in the study likely having an overall unhealthy lifestyle to begin with, Schuh says, “So blaming French fries for premature death alone is ‘fake news,’ to put it in current terminology.”

The Alliance for Potato Research & Education (APRE, www.apre.org) also took issue with the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study, as well as AARP’s follow-up article.

“The attention-grabbing title of this study generated widespread media coverage, including stories that didn’t accurately reflect the study’s conclusions and limitations,” a release by APRE states.

“Like all epidemiologic research, this study cannot demonstrate cause and effect, and associations identified by any such work must be carefully examined in the context of the study methodology and relative risk results,” APRE explains.

“It’s important that people, including scientists, other health professionals and media, dig deeper, looking beyond the headlines to assess the data and its meaning for public health,” APRE says.

APRE finds fault with several aspects of the study, particularly:

  • The study subjects are not reflective of the general population.
  • The subject pool was relatively small and follow-up was short.
  • Food/nutrient intake data was only gathered once and does not account for changing dietary habits.
  • Food intake was captured in isolation, not in context of a dietary pattern or how people truly eat.
  • The primary outcome variable is all-cause mortality, which is not a sensitive endpoint with which to indict a specific food or diet.
  • From a statistical perspective, several findings raise questions for concern.

The bottom line, concludes APRE’s assessment of the study, is that studies like this are reminders of how difficult it is to conduct high-quality nutrition research.

APRE has released scientific articles regarding potato and French fry consumption. A release titled “Potatoes and Childhood Nutrition” explains that research shows potatoes can help improve children’s overall diet quality and intake.

“Advances in nutrition supplement, supported by APRE, explored the state of science on children’s vegetable consumption and reinforced the important nutritive value of vegetables, especially potatoes, for infants and toddlers,” the article states.
“A 2016 study, supported by APRE, found that enjoying mashed potatoes with a meal helps to increase children’s satiety and results in significantly fewer calories being consumed compared to when other carbohydrate dishes are eaten as accompaniments,” APRE asserts.

A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), supported by APRE, suggests that children ages 1 to 3 years old aren’t getting enough vegetables, potassium, dietary fiber and Vitamin D in their diets.

White potatoes, NHANES says, are readily accepted nutrient-rich vegetables that offer a good source of potassium and provide 8 percent of the Daily Value for fiber.

Additionally, research supported by APRE shows that removing potatoes from children’s diets can have the unintended consequence of compromising their potassium intake.

Potatoes also help promote childhood nutrition as part of school meals. APRE-supported research suggests that schools may be able to reduce plate waste and save money by optimizing entrée and vegetable pairings.

Less Plate Waste

A study conducted at Texas A&M University demonstrated that pairing entrées with popular vegetables such as white potatoes, served as oven-baked French fries, tater tots and potato wedges, resulted in the least amount of plate waste.

Another APRE press release shows that French fries, as part of mixed meals, produce lower blood glucose and insulin levels in children.

A study lead and co-authored by G. Harvey Anderson, Ph.D., executive director for the Centre for Child Nutrition and Health at the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada, assessed food intake, calorie intake, blood glucose and insulin levels in normal-weight children 11-13 years old.

The children consumed a fixed amount of meat and an unlimited amount of carbohydrate side dishes, either boiled or mashed potatoes, rice, pasta, and either fried or baked French fries.

The results of the study show that children consumed fewer calories from meals with boiled and mashed potatoes than with rice, pasta or French fries, and consumed 30-40 percent fewer calories at meals with boiled or mashed potatoes as compared with all other carbohydrates.

Consumption of fried French fries resulted in the lowest glucose and insulin at the end of the meal and throughout the 120 minutes following the meal.

Contrary to popular believe, the children did not overeat when served fried French fries. The study showed that they did not consume more calories with fried French fries compared with rice, pasta and baked French fries.

It’s evident, then, that French fries may not be so deadly after all.

Originally published by and reprinted with permission of Joe Kertzman, managing editor of Badger Common'Tater

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