Our questions receive a very reasonable response from author of Australian ADD research
by Craig Weatherby
The June 26 issue of Vital Choices featured an article titled “New Findings Support Omega-3s’ Ability to Aid Kids with Attention Disorders”, in which we covered new research concerning the effects of supplemental fish oil in kids with attention deficit disorders. In the article, we reported on the positive results of a new, soon-to-be-published study from the University of South Australia, led by PhD candidate Natalie Simms.
The study seemed to show substantial improvements in children who took fish oil supplements, according to ratings done by the kids’ parents. However, the researchers dismissed the ratings done by the children’s teachers, which showed no improvements.
We noted that the current issue of the same journal that has accepted the Australian paper for publication (Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics) contained the results of a study which showed that the behavioral-improvement ratings of teachers in similar ADD investigations are generally more reliable than those done by parents (Tripp G 2006).
And there’s an obvious reason to suppose that parents’ ratings would be less reliable than those of their children’s teachers. Parents are eager for their children to get better—a bias that could skew their perceptions or ratings—while teachers are less attached to the outcomes of studies and should therefore be more objective.
Researcher’s reply allays our questions
Since the published accounts of the Australian study did not explain why Ms. Simms and her team discounted the teachers’ ratings, we sent her an email asking why, and we’ve received her explanation:
“The parent-versus-teacher questionnaires are discussed in detail in the [as yet unpublished] paper: it is likely that the parent questionnaires are more valid as the parents were more involved in the study and had greater contact with the children.
“There were many incidences of teacher-sharing, teachers going on leave and children changing schools, compounded with large class sizes. Also, the results from the parent ratings replicate those obtained from teacher ratings in the Durham trial (UK): in the latter study the teachers were actively involved in the research and in administering supplements. I hope this answers your question.”
Our article actually began with an account of the Durham trial to which Ms. Simms referred, so we were familiar with it (Richardson AJ 2005).
The rationale offered by Ms. Simms for dismissing the teachers’ rating seems reasonable. And the parents’ ratings echo the findings of the Durham study: a fact that seems to support the validity of her team’s positive findings.