US omega-3 intakes from fish and supplements are ‘far below recommended amounts’

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / microgen
© Getty Images / microgen

Related tags omega-3 Omega-3 fatty acids Supplements Heart health

Average intake of EPA and DHA omega-3s in the US population is less than half the levels recommended by the WHO and NIH, says a new analysis. Omega-3 trade group GOED says the data “strengthens our arguments for increased outreach.”

According to analysis of 2003-2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data, oily fish make up most of the 100 mg per day average EPA + DHA intake in the US, but this levels is significantly lower than the 200–250 mg per day for adults recommended by the World Health Organization or the 270 mg per day recommended by the National Institutes of Health.

In addition, the analysis showed that less than 8% of Americans are routinely using omega-3 supplements, despite their widespread availability.

“Consumption of n‐3 LCPUFA [omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids] remains low in the overall US population, with even lower n‐3 LCPUFA intake being more common in socioeconomically disadvantaged subpopulations and specific ethnicities, which may indicate the potential for augmenting health disparities,” ​wrote scientists from the University of Nebraska Medical Center, University of Arizona, The Pennsylvania State University, and the University of California Riverside in Nutrients​.

GOED: “We still have a lot more work to do”

Commenting on the study’s findings, Ellen Schutt, executive director of the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), told NutraIngredients-USA: “This paper corroborates previous research showing differences in omega-3 intake by ethnicity, income and education levels, and underscores the importance of communicating to less-served populations about the importance of EPA and DHA for public health outcomes.

“The fact that the average intake of EPA and DHA in the US is still only 100 mg/day, and only 7% of those surveyed take supplements, shows GOED still has a lot more work to do in educating consumers and healthcare practitioners about the importance of these nutrients and having tools like this paper will help strengthen our arguments for increased outreach.”

Study details

Data from 44,585 participants in the 2003-2014 NHANES showed that, while the average daily intake of EPA and DHA 100 mg per day, there were significant differences in intakes across ethnicity, education, and income.

In particular, “low educational attainment and income were consistently associated with lower n‐3 LCPUFA intake”,​ said the researchers.

“Oily fish are the primary dietary source of n‐3 LCPUFA, but very few demographic groups in our analysis met the American Heart Association’s suggested intake of 2 servings/week of fish for adults or 8 ounces/week of oily fish per the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (provides approximately 250 mg/day EPA + DHA),”​ they added.

Moreover, the data also revealed that only 7.4% of individuals routinely took supplements.

The researchers wrote: “Education and intervention approaches to increase n‐3 LCPUFA intake should include a variety of strategies, including increased consumption of dietary n‐3 LCPUFA sources, consistent daily use for those who choose to use EPA/DHA supplements, as well as n‐3 LCPUFA fortified foods and other potential alternatives.”

Highlighting which Americans can benefit the most

Harry Rice, PhD, VP of regulatory & scientific affairs for GOED, told us that it is discouraging that EPA/DHA intake remains low in the United States, but these numbers highlight which Americans can benefit the most by increasing their intake via fatty fish or via supplements.

“Research has demonstrated that increasing EPA/DHA levels in those with the lowest intakes/levels leads to better outcomes for a number of debilitating conditions. For example, secondary findings from VITAL, the first large-scale primary prevention trial looking at the cardiovascular benefits of omega-3 supplementation, demonstrated a statistically significant lower incidence of the primary cardiovascular end-point with omega-3 supplementation (versus placebo) for participants with low fish consumption.”

Source: Nutrients
2020, 12​(7), 2045; doi:
“Omega-3 Long-Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids Intake by Ethnicity, Income, and Education Level in the United States: NHANES 2003–2014”
Authors: C. Cave et al.

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