Survey Indicates Public Awareness of Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Health

May 7, 2018


Awareness of Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Possible Health Effects Among Young Adults
Roke, K. et al., Can. J. of Dietetic Practice and Research, 79: 1-7, 2018
Dept. of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, University of Guelph. Guelph, Ontario, Canada


Previous consumer awareness studies amongst middle-aged and older individuals have found considerable recognition of the various health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. The present study was aimed as determining the overall awareness of young adults with respect to omega-3 fatty acids including EPA/DHA and their health effects.

For this purpose, young adults between the ages of 18-25 years from the university campus were recruited and participated by responding to a questionnaire which was designed to assess their awareness, knowledge, and attitudes towards omega-3 fatty acids and their possible health effects. A total of 834 individuals completed the survey of which 78.5 % were females. Regarding omega-3 fatty acid terminology, 60 % of the respondents were familiar with alpha-linolenic acid but only 36 % and 35 % were familiar with eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, respectively. In contrast, the abbreviations EPA (at 51 % awareness) and DHA (at 66 %) were better known than ALA (at 41 %). Regarding purchases, 48 % reported purchasing or consuming foods with omega-3 fatty acids and 21 % reported taking EPA/DHA supplements. Half of the respondents agreed that increased consumption of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids as EPA/DHA was related to general health, Of these, the vast majority indicated awareness to heart health and brain health at 84 % and 83 %, respectively, with a lower portion (62 %) relating EPA/DHA intake to metabolic health. The degree of awareness of the health effects was positively related to those who used academic/reputable sources, healthcare professionals, and/or social media to obtain nutritional information.

Dr. Holub's Comments:

The authors concluded that their survey supported an overall high level of awareness of certain aspects of omega-3 fatty acids and health in young adults from a university environment. Earlier surveys found a much lower level of awareness of older individuals who were not exposed to the high degree of exposure to omega-3 fatty acid information as in our current society. As would be expected, the present study found a higher degree of omega-3 fatty acid awareness in those who were studying within the biological/physical sciences as compared to those in the social sciences or other fields. When comparing terminology awareness of the six omega-3 options (the three full fatty acid names plus the corresponding three abbreviations), DHA was the clear leader. While not studied herein, this may partly reflect extensive public/consumer education on the importance of DHA for optimal brain health and visual acuity (particularly in infants and toddlers) via TV/websites/newspaper/magazine ads and awareness via academic/public lectures, advice from healthcare personnel, evidence-based publications in peer-reviewed medical and nutritional journals, as well as DHA labelling with supportive health claims on nutritional supplements and DHA-containing foods (including foods enriched with added DHA , infant formula, others).

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