According to a recent survey, 81% of parents feel that their child has a healthy diet, particularly those from wealthier families. Yet, in describing a healthy diet, most people selected three balanced meals a day over using fresh ingredients or cutting out snacks, junk food and takeaways. At the same time, we are seeing increases in the rates of child obesity, as well as neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD, dyslexia and Autistic Spectrum Disorders.
According to Nutrition Scientist Dr Nina Bailey, “we have a long way to go to educate people as to what constitutes a healthy diet, since most adults clearly believe their children are eating a healthy diet. This contradicts the sales figures of junk foods and processed food, as well as national statistics for rising obesity and childhood learning disorders.”
In a recent survey of 200 parents, it became apparent that TV and internet were a significant part of children’s leisure habits, with 92% of parents admitting that their children watched television on a daily basis, and 47% of children spending time at a computer daily. Given the link between sedentary lifestyles, poor diets and increasing childhood learning problems and obesity, these findings are a real cause for concern. “Eating junk food leads to overconsumption, and reduced activity decreases energy expenditure. It is a repetitive cycle, and one that children will likely carry with them into adulthood. If parents intervene with their child’s diet, reducing consumption of processed foods, and limiting time spent watching television or surfing the internet, we might see rates of childhood obesity start to decline – and rates of learning problems would likely decrease too,” Dr Bailey commented.
In recent years, many studies have demonstrated the importance of omega-3 fatty acids in children’s diets – particularly so in relation to learning and development. The UK Food Standards agency is reviewing the possibility of introducing an RDA, since these good fats are so essential for our health. Yet, when parents were asked about fish consumption in the recent survey, there was a clear trend in consumption of white fish such as cod, or perhaps canned tuna – both of which do not provide essential brain-boosting omega-3 fats. At the same time, only 5-8% of parents reported giving their children omega-3 fish oil supplements, suggesting that children in the UK aren’t receiving sufficient amounts of these nutrients.
Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are known to have an important role in the brain, as well as heart health, immunity, inflammatory response, and many other physiological functions. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential for maintaining healthy cell membranes, which helps with the transmission of messages between neurons in the brain – in other words aiding brain function. Simply put, these fats are vital for good health, at any age.
When there’s a shortage in the body of important omega-3 fatty acids, brain cell communication is disrupted which, in the case of the dopamine pathway (the neurotransmitter implicated in ADHD for example, and the basis for which the drug Ritalin has been formulated) this could affect functions such as attention and concentration – both fundamental factors in ADHD and other neurodevelopmental disorders.
The role of the omega-3 EPA in learning, attention and concentration is well documented, with controlled trials reporting improved behaviour at home and in the classroom after supplementation with concentrated omega-3 fish oils. Restoring the levels of fatty acids in the brain promotes efficient cell communication, and neurotransmitters resume healthy levels.
Encouraging children to eat oily fish can be difficult, but with high quality supplements available, purified fish oil offers a convenient and safe solution. With its high EPA content, we recommend Vegepa Chewables – EPA omega 3 fish oil which contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in precisely the right ratio to restore a healthy balance in the body. Vegepa Chewables are naturally flavoured with orange and are free from salicylates (chemicals found in oranges and orange products that can trigger ADHD symptoms).