Of taters and tots

Diets rich in french fries may be toxic—at least to little girls, according to a new study. Researchers found that for each serving of french fries that a preschool girl typically consumed per week, her adult risk of developing breast cancer climbed 27 percent.

The long-running Nurses’ Health Studies I and II have been following nearly 240,000 female nurses born between 1921 and 1963. In the new analysis, epidemiologists looked for an association between foods that study participants consumed as children and their subsequent risk of breast cancer. Researchers analyzed information that had been provided by mothers of 582 participants who developed breast cancer and of 1,569 who didn’t. They had estimated how much of 30 foods—from apples to hot dogs—their daughters had regularly eaten between the ages of 3 and 5.

At the start of the test, “I didn’t have my money on any particular food or nutrient,” says study leader Karin B. Michels of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. “So, I was surprised that one food so distinctly stood out” as a risk factor, she adds. Michels’ team published the finding in the Feb. 1 International Journal of Cancer.

Michels warns that people should interpret these provocative results cautiously. In exploring cancer-risk factors for years, “we and other groups have been very unsuccessful in linking adult women’s diets to breast cancer,” she notes.

Her team explored childhood eating patterns, she explains, because other studies had shown that breast carcinogens, such as radiation, have their greatest impact before puberty.

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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