Toddlers Found to have Inadequate Intakes of Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids

May 21, 2018


Directly Quantified Dietary n-3 Fatty Acid Intakes of Canadian Toddlers are Lower than Current Dietary Recommendations
Lacombe, R. J., Kratz, R. J., and Holub, B. J., Nutrition Res., 53: 85-91, 2018
Dept. of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, University of Guelph. Guelph, Ontario, Canada


To date, few studies have evaluated the intake of dietary omega-3 (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) in young North American children and current estimates are based on indirect approaches which have concerning limitations. Furthermore, there is a lack of available knowledge regarding the proportion of children meeting current dietary recommendations for the consumption of long-chain n-3 PUFA as α-linolenic acid (ALA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)/docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The objective of the present study was to directly quantify the intake of n-3 PUFA in toddlers aged 2 to 3 years and determine if intakes met international recommendations. Given the low intakes of fish in North America, the authors predicted that n-3 PUFA intakes in toddlers would fall short of recommended intakes.

Duplicated diets were collected from 20 Canadian children over a 3-day period. Diets were then directly analyzed by gas chromatography. Daily intakes (means ± SEM) of ALA, EPA, and DHA were as follows: 710.1 ± 69.7, 9.6 ± 2.9, and 19.2 ± 6.8 mg/d, respectively. Compared with North American dietary reference intakes, 45% of the children met the minimal recommended intake of ALA, whereas only 5% consumed the target intake of EPA plus DHA. The present results indicate that Canadian children aged 2 to 3 years struggle to consume adequate intakes of the n-3 PUFA ALA and particularly EPA/DHA; efforts to narrow this gap should focus on increasing EPA and DHA intakes by appropriate fish/seafood consumption along with enriched foods or supplements if necessary.

Dr. Holub's Comments:

Our laboratory has previously reported (J. Nutr.,135: 206-211 (2005) and J. Nutr.,139: 528-532 (2009)) on the significant shortcomings when estimating omega-3 fatty acid intakes in selected population sectors via indirect methods which rely on dietary recalls and food frequency questionnaires and questionable nutrient composition data from previously-published food tables. Direct quantification of fatty acid intakes via daily duplicate collections of all foods and beverages and supplements as consumed followed by lipid extractions (in the present of known amounts of internal standard) and high-performance gas-liquid chromatography has proven to be the superior approach for accurate determinations. The present study indicates a very high prevalence on inadequate intakes of EPA/DHA omega-3 fatty acids in this population of Canadian toddlers. It is most likely that this particular nutrient insufficiency is commonplace across North America and in numerous countries globally. In view of the importance of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in supporting optimal cognitive and visual acuity during growth and development along with other health benefits, active public health measures are needed to close the nutrition gap involving omega-3 fatty acids in this young and vulnerable sector.

Return to Other Health Conditions Research