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New research finds school children may not be consuming enough long-chain omega-3 fats

Press release issued: 24 September 2021

A new study by researchers at the University of Bristol has found that children may not be eating enough long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which are found mainly in fish and seafood.

The study analysed the habitual diet of over 8000 7-year-old children from the Children of the 90s birth cohort, also known as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). The study was designed to assess the amount and food sources of both omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) consumed by primary school-aged children living in the UK, both of which are necessary for healthy growth and development, particularly neurocognitive development.

Their research found that while the children’s consumption of total PUFA (6.5% of total energy) was in line with UK dietary recommendations, their consumption of the long-chain omega-3 PUFAs was only 85 mg/day, which was less than half of the recommended intake.

Lead author Dr Genevieve Buckland, from Bristol Medical School, said: “Our research also identified that the balance of intake between omega-6 and omega-3 fats was too much in favour of omega-6 fats. This is due to the abundance of omega-6 rich foods in these children’s diets, largely from biscuits, cakes, savoury baked goods and snacks, and fat spreads, compared to their relatively low intakes of omega-3 fats, which come from fish and seafood and other sources including certain vegetable oils, nuts and green leafy vegetables.”

The study also found that dietary intakes of one particular type of long-chain omega-3 fatty acid known as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) were moderately correlated with plasma DHA concentrations, since long-chain omega-3 fat concentrations in the blood are mainly a reflection of their direct consumption from foods. The body can make the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids from shorter chain omega-3 dietary fats, but it is not a very efficient process. These results show how important it is that children consume omega-3 fats, including the long-chain omega-3s, in their diets.

Dr Buckland explains that “The very low consumption of long-chain omega-3 fats, and the incorrect balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in children’s diets from this cohort, highlight the need for public health initiatives to address this problem in the UK. This should include educating parents about the importance of regularly including foods rich in omega-3 fats into balanced family meals, to support their children’s growth and development and optimise their future health.”

Further information

Full paper published in: British Journal of Nutrition. 2021 Jun 17:1-11. doi:10.1017/S0007114521002191. Online ahead of print. PMID: 34134803


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