A New USC Study Supports the Scientific Consensus on Moms and Seafood
A new USC seafood study on the connection between maternal seafood consumption and children’s health was recently released. And while the study isn’t the last word on the matter it is consistent with the overwhelming scientific consensus that seafood consumption has real and lasting benefits for expectant mothers and growing children.
The media coverage of the research, however, is mixed at best and marked by confusing or inaccurate descriptions of its results and significance. Some of the coverage, like a story from NBC’s affiliate in Los Angeles, even inaccurately claims that the study shows the highest levels of seafood consumption by moms yielded an adverse effect on children’s health. That’s not just false, it’s irresponsible, and will only further the confusing and conflicted advice too many moms get on seafood and health.
Here’s what you need to know:
- The USC seafood study finds that moms eating seafood 2-3 times a week during pregnancy is associated with improvements in a variety of health markers in their children. These include waist circumference, insulin levels, HDL cholesterol levels, and markers for inflammation.
- The study findings support the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommend that pregnant women eat 2-3 servings of seafood each week.
Here’s how the study worked:
- Researchers looked at 805 moms and their children aged 6-12 from across Europe (where seafood consumption is higher than the U.S., incidentally).
- Fish intake was broken down into 3 categories: low (ate fish less than once a week), moderate (ate fish one to three times a week), and high (ate fish more than three times a week).
- Fish intake was based on dietary recall, meaning they simply asked participants what they ate rather than directly observing it.
- Then, they measured some key elements of the children’s health, including waist circumference, blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood insulin levels.
What did they find?
- Compared with low fish intake, moderate fish intake during pregnancy was associated with a decrease in children’s metabolic syndrome score, a key measure of health.
- High fish intake during pregnancy was also associated with a decrease in metabolic syndrome score, though the effect was a bit smaller.
- Even a doubling in moms’ mercury levels were associated with higher metabolic syndrome score.
- Compared with low fish intake and low mercury levels during pregnancy, the combination of moderate fish intake and low mercury exposure was associated with the greatest decrease in metabolic syndrome score, while the combination of low fish intake and high mercury exposure during pregnancy was associated the greatest increase in metabolic syndrome score.
What’s more, the study does not show high fish consumption is linked to any adverse effects on children’s metabolic health. And, that the coverage suggesting otherwise is perpetuating dangerous myths, not facts supported by evidence.
Even as we point out the coverage that got this study wrong, it’s important to highlight the coverage that got it right. The New York Times, for instance, correctly described the study’s finding that the highest weekly fish consumption was not found to have an additional benefit above three servings a week. This is a far cry from the NBC LA story’s insinuation of adverse effects and fear-mongering about mercury.
Decades of studies show the brain benefits of pregnant women eating seafood 2-3 times every week. This study shows that the benefits of pregnant women eating seafood 2-3 times each week extends beyond baby’s brain development. The bottom line is that this study’s findings support the recommendation that pregnant women should eat a variety of seafood 2-3 times each week for a variety of important health benefits. Expectant moms deserve the best science on seafood and nutrition, and a press that knows how accurately to present it.