Very Low Intakes of DHA and EPA Found by Direct Measurements in Children 4-8 Years Old

March 22, 2009


Direct Diet Quantification Indicates Low Intakes of (n-3) Fatty Acids in Children 4 to 8 Years Old
Madden SMM, Garrioch CF, and Holub, BJ., J. Nutrition, 139:1-5, 2009.
Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada


The importance of DHA omega-3 fatty acid as a physiologically-essential nutrient in the brain and retina for optimal neuronal and visual functioning, respectively, is well supported by numerous publications in the scientific literature. Furthermore, the longstanding recommendations for dietary omega-3 intakes as alpha-linolenic acid (LNA) have recently been extended in many jurisdictions with added recommended intakes for DHA/EPA in view of the recognized and highly variable limited conversion of dietary LNA to the longer-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Since the limited data available on omega-3 fatty acid intakes in children are restricted to estimated intakes from dietary recalls and food-frequency questionnaires with their various limitations, the present study was conducted so as to provide direct dietary quantification of the intakes of omega-3 fatty acids in children aged 4-8 years. Complete duplicate collections of all foods (including beverages and supplements) consumed by the children over a 3-day period were performed and energy (plus other macronutrient) assessments were performed which indicated that the measured energy intakes were very close to those recommended for such children.

The total fatty acid intakes determined gravimetrically or by quantitative capillary gas-liquid chromatographic analysis were almost identical. Duplicate analyses on the total collections from 41 children indicated the mean intakes of LNA, DHA, EPA, and DPA (docosapentaenoic acid omega-3) to be 1161, 54, 38, and 26 mg per day, respectively. It was determined that 61% of the children met the AI (adequate intake) for LNA based on the Dietary Reference Intakes from the Institute of Medicine whereas only 22% met the suggested adequate intake for DHA plus EPA (10% of the adequate intake for LNA). Whereas 68% of the children met the recommended intake from Australia and New Zealand for LNA (target of 800 mg/day), only 51% met the target intake for DHA plus EPA plus DPA combined. When the recent recommended intakes of DHA/EPA (sum) from the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada for adults were extrapolated (based on energy intake) to the children 4-8 years of age, 68% met the recommended intake for LNA whereas only 10% met the corresponding calculated target intake for DHA plus EPA based on energy intakes. The authors concluded that a considerable nutrient intake gap exists for DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) plus EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) intakes in young children (ages 4-8 years) and that this gap (actual vs. recommended intakes) is much less in the case of LNA omega-3 fatty acid consumption.

Dr. Holub's Comments:

As pointed out in our publication, there is an apparent need to create greater awareness on the importance of the long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids amongst both health professionals and the general public so as to fill the existing nutrient gap between actual and recommended intakes from various sources. This nutrient gap can be readily filled with an increased consumption of fish/seafood containing DHA plus EPA and/or via the increased availability/consumption of foods (eggs, dairy products, breads, beverages, and others) that have been nutritionally enriched with various delivery forms of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, and by the use of supplementation where necessary.

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