Coastal dwellers low in omega-3s despite affluence, access to fish, survey finds

By Hank Schultz contact

- Last updated on GMT

Residents of Newport, Rhode Island have low Omega-3 Index readings, even though fresh is readily available. Getty Images
Residents of Newport, Rhode Island have low Omega-3 Index readings, even though fresh is readily available. Getty Images

Related tags: omega-3, Omega-3 index, Research

Even Americans living in an affluent coastal town with good access to fresh seafood are deficient in omega-3s, a new survey has found.

The consumer research conducted by Reckitt Benckiser, which is the owner of omega-3s brand MegaRed, shows that access to fresh fish does not make much difference in the Omega-3 Index. 

Residents seriously deficient

The survey tested the blood of 234 individuals form Newport, Rhode Island.  While a healthy level for the index is 8% or higher, the cohort showed a level of 5.2%.  New research shows that to efficiently raise an individual’s index from a baseline of 4% to the 8% level recommended by health experts, a dose of 2 grams of EPA and DHA per day is necessary​.  That dosage is very hard to achieve with the amount of fish Americans typically eat.

New York-based cardiologist Dr Suzanne Steinbaum, DO, said the new survey results confirm earlier research she has done that shows most Americans are critically short of these important nutrients.

“The findings in Newport, RI were fairly consistent with a study my colleagues and I published in the journal Nutrients which showed that blood levels of Omega-3 fatty acids are significantly below the optimal range in 98% of the population, even among those who believed they were eating a balanced diet. To me, Newport was an interesting experiment that reiterates how challenging it can be to obtain all the nutrients our bodies need through diet alone — no matter where you live and how much access you have to healthy foods,”​ Steinbaum told NutraIngredients-USA.

‘Omega Town’

The survey results came from a MegaRed marketing effort in Newport over the summer that the brand called “Omega Town.” It included consumer outreach on the benefits of omega-3s and the importance of having one’s levels tested.  It is a follow-on to MegaRed’s longstanding advertising campaign that pushed the brand, which is centered on krill oil, to No.1 in sales among all omega-3 supplements prior to the RB acquisition. RB outbid Bayer to acquire Schiff Nutrition, then owner of the MegaRed brand, for $1.4 billion in 2013​.

“As part of the program, MegaRed offered residents information about Omega-3s and ways to know your levels, including onsite O3-I testing and nutritional counseling, along with outdoor workouts like yoga, paddle board and bike rentals. This was shared across the country on social media to help educate the wider public on the importance of reaching optimal omega levels. Additionally, we have had success educating shoppers and communicating the ’98% of Americans don’t get enough’ message with retail partners like Walmart, Walgreens and CVS,” ​said Gregory Chabidon, vice president for vitamins, minerals and supplements at RB.

Rude surprise

Steinbaum said her patient population is motived and well educated about healthy diet and healthy lifestyle choices. Still, she said, it often comes as rude surprise when test results come back showing they have low omega-3 levels even so.

“I talk to my patients a lot about the importance of omega-3s on heart health, as well as numerous other benefits, including eye health and even healthy mood. Most patients understand that omega-3s are good for them and they know they should be eating more fish — but they still aren’t getting enough Omega-3s through food alone. Supplements aren’t a replacement for a healthy diet, but they can be important when attempting to bridge the gaps in your diet,” ​she said.

“Just like you know your cholesterol or blood pressure, it's important to know your Omega-3 levels, and make changes if you are low,”​ Steinbaum added.

Sensitivity to sustainability

In this era of rising environmental concerns, Chabidon said RB is keenly aware of the spotlight that has been trained upon the sustainability of the krill harvest.  Chabidon said RB is highlighting the work the company’s supply partners have done to ensure these concerns are addressed.

“The findings from Newport, RI are consistent with national data that suggest a growing concern around Americans’ levels of Omega-3s and an important role for supplementation. As demand grows, sustainability is very important to the brand. We work with supply partners and expert bodies, like the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), to source our materials sustainably, in an effort to ensure our products are produced in a manner that meets the highest standards, while also protecting unique ecosystems and species,”​ he said.

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