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Fruit, vegetables, and antioxidants in childhood and risk of adult cancer: the Boyd Orr cohort
  1. M Maynard1,
  2. D Gunnell2,
  3. P Emmett3,
  4. S Frankel2,
  5. G Davey Smith2
  1. 1MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, London, UK
  2. 2Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, UK
  3. 3Institute of Child Health, Unit of Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology, University of Bristol
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr M Maynard, MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, 3–5 Islington High Street, London N1 9LQ;


Study objective: To examine associations between food and nutrient intake, measured in childhood, and adult cancer in a cohort with over 60 years follow up.

Design and setting: The study is based on the Boyd Orr cohort. Intake of fruit and vegetables, energy, vitamins C and E, carotene, and retinol was assessed from seven day household food inventories carried out during a study of family diet and health in 16 rural and urban areas of England and Scotland in 1937–39.

Participants: 4999 men and women, from largely working class backgrounds, who had been children in the households participating in the pre-war survey. Analyses are based on 3878 traced subjects with full data on diet and social circumstances.

Main results: Over the follow up period there were 483 incident malignant neoplasms. Increased childhood fruit intake was associated with reduced risk of incident cancer. In fully adjusted logistic regression models, odds ratios (95% confidence intervals) with increasing quartiles of fruit consumption were 1.0 (reference), 0.66 (0.48 to 0.90), 0.70 (0.51 to 0.97), 0.62 (0.43 to 0.90); p value for linear trend=0.02. The association was weaker for cancer mortality. There was no clear pattern of association between the other dietary factors and total cancer risk.

Conclusions: Childhood fruit consumption may have a long term protective effect on cancer risk in adults. Further prospective studies, with individual measures of diet are required to further elucidate these relations.

  • childhood diet
  • fruit
  • cancer
  • life course

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  • Funding: World Cancer Research Fund.

  • Competing interests: none.

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