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Fruit and breast cancer risk: TIME leaves out key data details

What Teen Girls Should Eat to Reduce Breast Cancer Risk

Our Review Summary

fruitThis story focuses primarily on a May 11 paper published in the BMJ, which reported that eating more fruit (particularly during adolescence) was associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer for women.

A healthy diet and breast cancer risk reduction are worthy topics, but the story doesn’t touch on some important points — such as the fact that a previous study in Pediatrics by the same researchers, using the same cohort data, pointed to adolescent dietary fiber intake as a significant factor in reducing breast cancer risk. We also were confused by the data discussion: What does a 25% reduction actually mean? Without absolute numbers, we’re just not sure.

 

Why This Matters

As we noted in our story reviews related to the earlier Pediatrics study, the CDC reports that breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the United States — with more than 224,000 new cases reported in 2012 alone.

Research findings that identify new ways to reduce the incidence of breast cancer are newsworthy, particularly when the new health measures may also have significant ancillary health benefits — as is likely the case with consuming a diet high in fruits.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Cost was not discussed, and because this is about fruit, we’ll rate this N/A. However, it is worth pointing out that fresh fruit isn’t something that all consumers can take for granted, since it can be expensive and hard to find in areas known as “food deserts.”

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The story tells readers that women “who reported eating nearly three servings of fruit a day on average [during adolescence] had a 25% lower risk of developing breast cancer than those who ate half a serving of fruit.” However, it’s not clear where that number comes from. And what does that mean in terms of absolute risk? I.e., how likely is someone who ate only half a serving of fruit as a teen to get cancer? The story doesn’t tell us — and that is key. If a story tells readers that eating “nearly three servings of fruit” as a teen means a “25% lower” risk, it needs to say 25% lower than what.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Applicable

There are no significant risks with eating three servings of fruit per day during adolescence, so we’ll rate this not applicable.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The story offers a general overview of the study, which analyzed data from the Nurse’s Health Study, but didn’t make at least one key point clear: The adolescent diet data that the study results hinge on were self-reported years after the fact. As the BMJ paper itself notes, “adolescent diet might be misclassified because assessments were done when women were aged 33-52.” And as a related editorial in BMJ notes, “Much more evidence is needed before we can draw conclusions on the reported protective association between adolescent fruit intake and breast cancer risk.”

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

No disease mongering here.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

No independent sources were included in the article, nor does it tell readers who funded the study. In this case, the work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, and the Japan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

This one squeaks by, because it also addresses risk factors such as alcohol and red-meat consumption. However, it would have been better to place the work into a broader context of lifestyle factors that influence risk, such as exercise, maintaining a health weight and avoiding tobacco use.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Applicable

Fruit has been around longer than humans have, so we’ll rate this not applicable.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

The story does note that the study is “among the first” to look at adolescent diet and cancer risk, which is good. But it misses a key point: that this exact same group of researchers, using the same set of data, published a paper in March focused on adolescent diet and breast cancer risk. That paper focused specifically on the role of dietary fiber in reducing breast cancer risk. This story discusses dietary fiber, but does so without the context that would come from discussing (even briefly) the earlier paper.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Satisfactory

This is a close one, since the story is very similar to a release from BMJ. However, the story does appear to include quotes from an interview with the lead author.

 

Total Score: 3 of 7 Satisfactory

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