A study featured on TV One’s Close-Up last night certainly hopes to show it does. This new New Zealand study is funded by natural health manufacturers Good Health, and if the fish oil supplements are proven to boost IQ, the results will be a big boost for the manufacturers.
The research is being lead by Kerry Lee from Auckland University, and is looking at 200 or so normal children at West Harbour Primary School. Half have been receiving omega-3 capsules four times daily for 15 weeks and half have received a placebo. Results are due out in January 2010 and it will be very interesting to see if the omega-3 supplements do show any effect on learning in this group of normal children.
This isn’t the first time omega-3 have been linked to learning and behaviour in children. An interesting study — the Oxford Durham Study, published in 2005 by Richardson and Montgomery — looked at children with developmental coordination disorder. Fish oil supplements (558mg/d EPA and 174mg/d DHA) were compared with placebo (olive oil). After three months of treatment there were significant improvements in reading, spelling and behaviour. The magnitude of the differences was not, however, large.
There is no doubt that good nutrition is important for children and that it can help promote good learning. Whether fish oil supplements have any effect remains to be seen. In the meantime, fish itself is a great source of a variety of important nutrients (including B vitamins, iron, zinc, selenium and iodine) and it was disappointing that in the Close-Up report only one child in a group of 19 had eaten fish in a daily food survey. Eating more fish (especially the oily varieties) certainly wouldn’t do our kids any harm and can be served in lots of appetising ways that would appeal to this age group (for example fish nuggets, fish burgers, or cheesy fish pasta bake).
So, could ‘school fish’ become the new ‘school milk? It’s unlikely to happen as a result of this study, as there are many influences on learning and behaviour in children, including a multitude of environmental and genetic factors. I wouldn’t expect really big differences between the two groups of children and I’m doubtful that fish oil supplements will make kids ’really brainy’ or will boost their IQ — but we will see! I’ll await the results of this new research with interest.