Survey finds majority of American parents aren't aware that omega-3 DHA plays critical part in child development
by Craig Weatherby
The results of a new survey show that most American parents aren't aware of the critical role that omega-3 DHA plays in the development of children’s brains and eyes.
DHA is one of two key “marine” omega-3 fatty acids essential to human cell membranes and found only in fish, seafood and algae (EPA is the other vital omega-3 and it also occurs only in aquatic foods).
Of the two key omega-3s, DHA is far more important to child development. DHA is a critical component of cell membranes, with the highest amounts found in the heart, retina, and brain.
DHA is essential for brain and eye development and remains essential to these organs lifelong (The brain is about 60 percent fatty acids by weight, and DHA constitutes about one-third of them).
Omega-3 DHA is particularly important between birth and five years of age, when the brain increases approximately three-and-a-half times in weight and its DHA content increases more than fourfold.
Adequate DHA intake ensures that cells in the brain, retina, heart and other parts of the nervous system develop and function properly.
Parental survey reveals gaping knowledge gap
The survey results reveal some big gaps in American parents’ understanding of the role and essentiality of omega-3 DHA to child development:
- Only one in five parents was aware of the importance of DHA during pregnancy and to newborns and infants.
- 59 percent of parents were not aware of the benefits of DHA to their children’s health.
- Only seven percent said they take steps to make sure that their child consumes DHA. Nearly three in four said they try to ensure that their children get key vitamins and minerals (such as vitamin C and calcium).
- Fewer (14 to 16 percent) knew that DHA is important to the health of toddlers and preschool-aged children.
How much DHA do kids need?
The U.S. Institute of Medicine has not established a recommended daily allowance for DHA, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tacitly accepts 160 mg as a reasonable daily target for DHA intake among children over four.
Many leading health authorities and pediatricians recommend that children aged from one to five years consume 150 mg of DHA per day, but actual DHA intakes among young American kids averages only 20-30 mg per day.
William Sears, M.D.—who’s been called “America’s pediatrician”—provided us with this guidance in response to a question we posed to him regarding optimal DHA intake for infants and for pregnant and nursing mothers:
- “...experts attending a 2005 workshop recommended at least 300 mg a day for pregnant and nursing mothers (most mothers get only 20-25 percent of this amount, unless they take omega-3 fish oil supplements).”
- “In our medical practice we have mothers take at least 500 mg of DHA per day during pregnancy and lactation.”
- “The recommendation for infants is at least 200 mg of DHA per day, which is the dosage added to infant formulas.”
- “Practically speaking, infants under one year old receive their omega-3s through mother's milk or fortified formula, but it is perfectly safe and perhaps even beneficial for infants to be given extra Vital Choice fish oil at a dose of around 300 mg a day of DHA. I stress DHA rather than EPA because DHA is the main brain-growth omega 3.” [Note: A dose of 300 mg of DHA would be provided by 8 of our 500 mg Salmon Oil capsules, 4 of our 1000 mg capsules, or 1 teaspoon of our Liquid Salmon Oil.]
Fish, fish oil, and DHA-fortified foods are the only abundant sources of this critical nutrient.
Humans convert the plant-source omega-3 called ALA into DHA and EPA, but only two to five percent of dietary ALA becomes DHA and EPA (The rest is burned for energy and/or stored as fat).
Thus, in order for a child on a strict vegan diet to produce adequate amounts of DHA he or she needs to eat lots of leafy greens, walnuts, and flax seed (or flax oil).
Vegetarian children with more dietary latitude can get substantial amounts of DHA from enriched eggs and dairy products, such as those offered by Stremicks Heritage Foods: the dairy company that commissioned this survey.
Survey uncovers other omega-3 knowledge and intake deficiencies
In addition to the major findings cited above, the survey revealed some other glaring knowledge and action gaps:
- Few parents reported that their child consumes natural food sources of DHA such as Tuna (24 percent) or Salmon (7 percent) at least twice a week.
- Only one in ten parents said their child regularly consumes DHA-fortified dairy products such as milk (5 percent) or eggs (7 percent).
- Nearly two in three parents (63 percent) said they didn't realize that DHA is a specific type of omega-3 fatty acid.
- Only about one in three parents (35 percent) was familiar with a variety of sources of DHA.
- Women were more likely than men to know about the benefits of DHA at various phases of development.
- Three out of four parents (72 percent) thought their child would be more receptive to getting DHA if from sources other than fish. (Children can also get DHA from fish oil, such as our whole, certified-pure Sockeye Salmon Oil capsules and liquid.)
This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive between March 20-25, 2008 among 1,244 U.S. adults aged 18 or more who were parents or legal guardians of children under the age of 18. It was commissioned by Stremicks Heritage Foods, a producer of DHA-rich organic eggs and dairy foods.
How much omega-3 do adults need?
For healthy adults, the U.S. Institute of Medicine recommends consuming 260 mg (women) to 400 mg (men) of omega-3s (EPA+DHA) per day, while the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids recommends 660 mg per day.
The American Heart Association recommends that heart patients take 1,000 mg of omega-3s (EPA+DHA) per day.
- Stremicks Heritage Foods. 2008 Children's Nutrition Survey Reveals Majority of U.S. Parents Unaware of DHA Benefits to Children's Health. April 21, 2008. Accessed online April 21 at http://www.prnewswire.com/cgi-bin/stories.pl?ACCT=104&STORY=/www/story/04-21-2008/0004796417&EDATE=