This news release is about a study funded by and written by the potato industry. And not surprisingly given its provenance, the news release advocates vigorously for the inclusion of more potatoes in children’s diets. Interestingly, though, the study that’s the basis for the release does not deliver the same message. Instead, it says that a broad array of vegetables are not being eaten by children and therefore children’s diets are lacking in calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients. Potatoes are a big focus of the study, of course, but here’s where the news release falls short, too: The study notes — and the news release ignores — that the potatoes being studied included french fries and potato chips. All potential health harm from these foods is completely ignored. (Such harm is ignored in the study, too.) The potential benefits are not clearly broken out in the study and seem to appear out of nowhere in the news release.
Childhood intake of nutrients has been linked to later development of cancer and cardiovascular disease, as well as obesity and diabetes. As the release states, childhood eating patterns carry over to adults. Encouraging kids to eat a wide variety of vegetables is therefore important. The argument that potatoes should be particularly encouraged has little foundation in science.
There is no mention of costs. We won’t penalize the release for not including this information since potatoes are a common and relatively inexpensive food. The release could have noted the average cost of a pound of potatoes to give parents a sense of how they might fit into a family grocery budget.
The release says that potatoes are the “best hope” for delivering more fiber and potassium to kids. Based on what evidence? The study certainly doesn’t show this. Here’s what the study concludes:
“The results suggest that patterns of potassium, [dietary fiber], and vitamin D intake for young children should be studied further in order to develop strategies for increasing intakes of these crucial nutrients. The consumption of a variety of all vegetables, including [white potatoes], is important to increase potassium and [dietary fiber] intakes and should be encouraged.”
The most troubling thing about this study and about the release is the inclusion of french fries and potato chips in the study as if they were equal in health value to other forms of potatoes. There is no discussion of the potential harms that come from foods high in sugar, salt, fat, and calories.
The release skirts any explanation of how the study was conducted. The study itself appeared to be focused on overall dietary patterns, not potatoes per se. In addition, the study was published as a paid supplement to a journal article. In general, supplements are not peer-reviewed, and so it would be helpful to note specifically whether the papers in the supplement were peer reviewed or not. The release is somewhat cagey on this point, saying that the study was published “in a special supplement of the peer-reviewed journal Advances in Nutrition.”
The release does not engage in disease mongering.
The release notes:
The supplement is the outcome of a November 2014 USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine roundtable on vegetable consumption in children. The forum was supported by the Alliance for Potato Research and Education, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to expanding and translating scientific research into evidence-based policy and education initiatives that recognize the role of all forms of the potato–a nutritious vegetable–in promoting health for all age groups.
That’s good information as far as it goes, but the release does not acknowledge that the authors of the main study that is the basis for the release are both paid by the Alliance (one is an employee, the other a consultant), which is a membership group for potato growers.
There are many comparisons in the study but the release mentions none of the many other dietary sources of potassium and fiber.
We think it’s obvious that potatoes are widely available.
By claiming that potatoes are the best hope for increasing potassium and fiber intake in kids, we think the release needed to prove the novelty of the research and this finding. But there’s nothing new here.
The headline – and use of “best hope” — is unjustified, as far as we can tell.