Study finds America’s lack of seafood heightens heart-diabetes risks 02/06/2020
Compared with many people in Europe and Asia, the average American eats very little seafood.
Consequently, the average American’s intake of fish-source omega-3 fats — DHA and EPA — falls far short of the 250-500mg daily DHA + EPA intake recommended by experts worldwide.
More than 10 years ago, Harvard scientists linked this shortfall in seafood and its omega-3s to heightened mortal perils: see Omega-3 Deficiency May Cause 90,000-Plus Deaths Annually.
And another characteristic of the average American’s diet makes matters worse: see “Impact of America’s seafood shortage worsened by excess vegetable oil”, below.
Recently, a Boston-based scientific team reported that the average American’s lack of seafood and its omega-3s adds billions to the nation's annual healthcare bill.
America’s lack of fish may cost the country $12.7 billion
When it comes to dietary excesses and deficiencies, bad health consequences are the key concern.
Some of the worst impacts of the average American's shortage of dietary seafood relate to “cardio-metabolic disease” — the collective label applied to various heart- and diabetes-related conditions.
Three years ago, a UK-US research team estimated that lack of seafood-source omega-3 fatty acids among Americans causes 54,626 deaths from cardio-metabolic disease, or 7.8% of the total (Micha R et al. 2017).
But the public and personal health costs of poor diets — which pinch our capacity to fund other priorities — also matter.
The new study was prompted by the fact that — as the research team from Harvard, Tufts, and New York’s Montefiore Medical Center wrote — unhealthy diets cause up to 45% of all deaths from cardio-metabolic diseases.
The team analyzed data collected from Americans aged 35–85 years to estimate the annual costs of cardiovascular and diabetes care linked to suboptimal intake — either too much or too little — of 10 food groups: fruits, vegetables, nuts/seeds, whole grains, unprocessed red meats, processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, polyunsaturated fats, seafood omega-3 fats, and sodium.
Their analysis resulted in these alarming estimates:
- Poor diets are the primary cause of 18.2% of all deaths from cardiometabolic conditions.
- The annual cost of diet-related cardiometabolic illness is about $301 per person and $50.4 billion nationally.
- Lack of omega-3 fats from seafood and/or fish oil caused one-quarter of all diet-related cardiometabolic health costs: $76 per person, or $12.7 billion annually.
These were other highlights of the new report (Jardim TV et al. 2020):
- Lack of nuts and seeds was the biggest single cause of added annual healthcare costs, at $81 per person.
- Average seafood intake among Americans is extremely low, so it wouldn’t take a huge rise to reach to adequate omega-3 consumption levels — even without fish oil supplements, which can easily raise them into the ideal range (250-500mg of omega-3 DHA + EPA per day).
Impact of America’s seafood shortage worsened by excess vegetable oil
The shortage of seafood and its omega-3s in the average American diet is worsened by the fact that it’s also extremely overloaded with omega-6 fats from cheap vegetable oils: soy, corn, cottonseed, sunflower, and safflower.
That “omega imbalance” sharply constricts the body’s capacity to convert ALA — the sole plant-source omega-3, most of which gets burned for energy — into omega-3 DHA and EPA, which are essential to brain, eye, and immune health, but abound only in seafood and omega-3-rich fish, krill, or algal (DHA only) oils.
Low-omega-6 alternatives include olive, macadamia nut, high-oleic sunflower, and canola oil, which is the only low-omega-6 option with substantial amounts of omega-3 ALA.
To learn more about America’s “omega imbalance”, see our Omega-3/6 Balance page and view the “Out of Balance” video at the top of that page, featuring interviews with scientists expert in this field.
- Jardim TV, Mozaffarian D, Abrahams-Gessel S, Sy S, Lee Y, Liu J, Huang Y, Rehm C, Wilde P, Micha R, Gaziano TA. Cardiometabolic disease costs associated with suboptimal diet in the United States: A cost analysis based on a microsimulation model. PLoS Med. 2019 Dec 17;16(12):e1002981. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002981. eCollection 2019 Dec.
- Micha R, Peñalvo JL, Cudhea F, Imamura F, Rehm CD, Mozaffarian D. Association Between Dietary Factors and Mortality From Heart Disease, Stroke, and Type 2 Diabetes in the United States. JAMA. 2017 Mar 7;317(9):912-924. doi: 10.1001/jama.2017.0947.