Daily Dose of Distortion?

The Daily Meal currently features a list on it’s website advising pregnant women to avoid 8 specific foods and beverages. The article misleads readers to believe they should avoid fish if they’re pregnant or breastfeeding, which flies in the face of both federal guidelines and the scientific consensus.

In fact, the latest guidance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) emphasizes that, “Fish contains important nutrients for developing fetuses, infants who are breastfed, and young children.” The FDA recommends pregnant women eat at least 8 ounces (or 2 meals), and up to 12 ounces (or 3 meals) of seafood per week. This recommendation is a far cry from “avoid.” Just one line from the FDA advice is buried in the last sentence of The Daily Meal’s description about avoiding fish, following comment from the Natural Resource Defense Council, a group of lawyers and policy advocates – not public health or nutrition professionals. Oddly enough, and telling of the editorial oversight that went into this piece, they identify this group as the National Resource Defense Council.

The article specifically recommends avoiding species like bigeye tuna, which is also unfounded. The FDA recommends pregnant and breastfeeding women avoid just four species; shark, king mackerel, tilefish, and swordfish. These four species make up less than 1% of all the fish Americans eat in a given year. FDA’s own calculations, based on a decade-long review of published peer-reviewed science, find pregnant women can eat albacore canned tuna, light canned tuna, and fresh tuna (species like Bigeye), at a surplus of 50 ounces per week before reaching any adverse effects. (Page 111). Currently, pregnant women eat less than 2 ounces of all seafood per week. They are not coming close to consumption levels of tuna that would lead to adverse effects.

The Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics says to “Provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.” This article, which in certain browsers leaves out the description for the 8 foods altogether, falsely promotes fish as a food to avoid. Readers who actually do read the short description are only more confused, with advice to “be wary” about fish followed by messaging like “greater risk of learning disabilities” “interfere with infant brain development” ending with “FDA says [these fish] are all safe for pregnant women.” It is almost comically conflicting.

This is a huge disservice to readers. Avoiding other foods on the list, such as alcohol and cookie dough, may not have a negative effect on a growing fetus. But avoiding nutrient-rich fish, with proven unique benefits such as brain and eye development, contributes to a public health crisis that sees pregnant women eating less than 2 ounces of seafood per week, to the detriment of their unborn babies. Other news outlets are urging them to eat more.

There is no question that confusing and misleading articles like this contribute to low seafood consumption. According to a peer-reviewed study, risk-centric “messaging reduces fish consumption…. resulting in an overall reduction in the potential health benefits derived from [omega-3] EPA + DHA.”

We have urged The Daily Meal to remove this article from their site or—at the very least, to amend it by removing fish from the list.

Watch this space to find out if The Daily Meal decides to correct the record when it comes to fish during pregnancy.