IN recent years, the great Scottish fish supper has been battered for its purported lack of health credentials.

A new study published in the country's leading medical journal The BMJ, puts another nail in the coffin for one of the country's most-loved meals.

Study researchers found that women who regularly eat fried food - particularly chicken and fish - are more likely to die young.

The grim findings of the American study showed that foods such as fried chicken and fried fish were associated with a higher risk of heart-related death, particularly among women in the study aged 50 to 65.

Researchers suggested that reducing the amount of fried food people eat - especially fried chicken and fried fish or shellfish - could have a

'positive' public health impact.

Researchers used questionnaires to assess the diets of 106,966 women, aged 50 to 79, who enrolled in the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) between 1993 and 1998 and who were followed up to February 2017.

During that time, 31,588 deaths occurred, including more than 9,300 heart-related deaths and over 8,300 cancer deaths.

The researchers looked at the women's total and specific consumption of different fried foods, including: fried chicken; fried fish, fish sandwich and fried shellfish (shrimp and oysters); and other fried foods, such as fries, tortilla chips and tacos.

After taking account of potentially influential factors such as lifestyle, overall diet quality, education and income, they found that regularly eating fried food was associated with a heightened risk of death from any cause and, specifically, heart-related death.

Those who ate one or more servings a day of fried food had an eight per cent higher risk compared with those who did not eat any.

Eating one or more servings of fried fish a day was linked to a seven per cent higher risk of death from any cause and a 13 per cent higher risk of heart-related death compared with no fried food.

Similarly, one or more servings of fried chicken a day was linked to a 13 per cent higher risk of death from any cause and a 12 per cent higher risk of heart-related death compared with no fried food.

Study author Dr Wei Bao, assistant professor in the department of epidemiology at the University of Iowa, said: "Women who ate fried foods more regularly tended to be younger, non-white, with less education and a lower income. They were also more likely to be smokers, exercise less and have a lower quality diet.

But he highlighted the large size and diversity of the study sample, and added: "We have identified a risk factor for cardiovascular mortality that is readily modifiable by lifestyle. He added. "Reducing the consumption of fried foods, especially fried chicken and fried fish/shellfish, may have clinically meaningful impact across the public health spectrum."

Commenting on the study, Bridget Benelam, communications manager at the British Nutrition Foundation, said: "The findings are interesting and there are a number of reasons why fried chicken and fish might be bad for health including their increased fat content and the effect of frying at high temperatures on the food, which can cause the production of trans fats and other harmful compounds called glycation products.

"However, this type of study can only observe associations and cannot show cause and effect. When looking at the people who regularly consumed fried foods they generally had lower incomes, were more likely to smoke and to have a worse diet quality. Although this was taken into account when calculating the findings it is difficult to say whether the results they observed are definitely due to consuming fried chicken, fish or shellfish or whether they might be due to a generally poorer diet and lifestyle.

"Having said that, our dietary guidelines suggest minimising the consumption of fatty, fried foods and so reducing our intakes of deep fried chicken and fish would be in line with existing guidance. When it comes to takeaways like fish and chips, these should be something to have as a treat but not a regular part of the diet – fish does contain beneficial nutrients but it’s best to choose options that are not deep fried most of the time."

However, others did not believe the findings would deter women from getting a fish supper.

Kirsty Adam, manager of Cromars Classic Fish and Chips in St Andrews, which was voted Scotland's best fish and chip shop in 2016 and 2018, said: "There's lots of stuff being published. Everybody is aware of the obesity crisis in Scotland. We are aware of the health benefits of eating fried foods. I don't think it will stop people from coming in. We get a lot of families coming in and traditionally getting fish and chips on a Friday.

"What we have noticed is women are more likely to order grilled fish and chips or grilled fish and salad, especially in the summer.

"We have also noticed that women are eating healthier than men. While men will order a jumbo or regular fried fish supper, women will order the small size."

Michael Park, chief executive of the The Scottish White Fish Producers Association, was sceptical of the findings. He said: "Reports come and go. Fish is good for people. It provides a lot of nutrients. Some people prefer it fried; others baked; and others grilled.

"My family still eat fried fish on Fridays. We come from a fishing village. My great-grandfather lived until his nineties, my dad lived until his eighties and my mum is in her eighties. We are a family who lived on fish - fried mostly - and it did not seem to do us much harm."