Canadian Children Omega-3 Deficient, U of G Study Finds

March 18, 2009 - News Release

Children in North America may not be getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in their diet, University of Guelph researchers have found.

Their study, published in the March issue of The Journal of Nutrition, is the first to directly measure the dietary intake of fatty acids by young children, said Bruce Holub, University professor emeritus in the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, and co-author of the study with graduate students Sarah Madden and Colin Garrioch.

“This is the first rigorously obtained evidence demonstrating that the diets of Canadian children are deficient in these vitally important nutrients,” Holub said.

The research analyzed the diets of 41 children between the ages of four and eight years old over a three-day period. With help from parents who provided food samples identical to what they were feeding their children, the researchers analyzed the meals in the lab and collected data from a typical week day and weekend.

The study found only 22 per cent of the children received the suggested amount of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. These nutrients, commonly found in fish, play a key role in child development, particularly in the growth of the brain and other nervous tissues. That’s why infant formula has been supplemented with DHA for several years.

In contrast, the study found 61 per cent of the children were receiving enough of another important fatty acid, ALA, which is more widely available in canola, soybean and flaxseed oils, walnuts and processed foods.

The findings may not be surprising given another recent study of U.S. children that found 16 per cent had consumed no fish or shellfish over the course of a year.

Holub said the research shows direct measurement, while time consuming and costly, provides the most accurate tool for measuring dietary intake of fatty acids. Previous studies used indirect methods that relied on memory recall and “guestimates” of food intake that were of limited value.

“Our work shows the need to create more awareness of the importance of these nutrients in human health and that there is a gap between actual and recommended intakes,” said Holub. “This gap can be filled by increasing consumption of fish and seafood containing DHA/EPA, as well omega-3-enriched foods and supplements.”

Prof. Bruce Holub
519 824-4120, Ext. 53743

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