A report on an Australian news site claims that:

Eight-year study finds heavy French fry eaters have ‘double’ the chance of death

The report quotes some of the details of the research:

On average, we each eat roughly about 14kg of hot fried potato chips every year. And that’s a problem.

Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that those who eat fried potato two or more times each week have double the chance of dying when compared to those who eat none.

The numbers aren’t insignificant. Some 4440 people aged 45 to 79 were tracked over an eight-year period, during which 236 of them died.

The source is this American Journal of Clinical Nutrition paper.

Given the notorious unreliability of nutritional studies and the complexity of models adjusting for other risk factors, is this result credible or significant? And is it consistent with other studies?

  • an aside ... "most epidemiology studies are wrong"... skeptics.stackexchange.com/q/1973/5125
    – GEdgar
    Commented Jul 16, 2017 at 11:21
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    The claim 'those who eat fried potato two or more times each week have double the chance of dying when compared to those who eat none' is obviously wrong. Even people who are not eating french fries will with definitive certainty die. Doubling a 100% risk of something is not possible. Commented Jul 16, 2017 at 12:04
  • 2
    @Tor-EinarJarnbjo: The newpaper article suggests in the body that this was over an 8 year period.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jul 16, 2017 at 12:47
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    @NateEldredge Only the abstract. There is a limit to how much science I can afford to pay for.
    – matt_black
    Commented Jul 16, 2017 at 14:03
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    I hate these claims. There's a million various things heavy french fry eaters might do that affects their longevity.
    – user11643
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 0:27

1 Answer 1


The result is not credible.

The abstract claims, somewhat disingenuously, that "this trial was registered at clinicaltrials.gov as NCT00080171." But the registration is actually titled Osteoarthritis Initiative (OAI): A Knee Health Study and sponsored by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. It was not registered as a nutritional trial.

The abstract says: "Potato consumption was analyzed by using a Block Brief 2000 food-frequency questionnaire." But the registration is clear on the purpose of the questionnaire: "A questionnaire and physical examination at screening will assess for risk factors for the development and progression of knee OA."

The nutritional information was collected to facilitate the study of osteoarthritis, not the lifespan of the general population. The registration makes no mention of mortality at all. And participation was limited to those at high risk for developing osteoarthritis of the knee.

  • 1
    Also known as: a statistical fishing trip. Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 12:09
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    @KonradRudolph Yep. The Block Brief 2000 provides about 70 foods and five frequencies to choose from. That's a lot of fishing holes.
    – D Krueger
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 13:13

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