FDA Issues Draft Advice Encouraging Women to Eat More Fish During Pregnancy

National Fisheries Institute Spreads the Word About New Recommendations, Which are Based on Review of Ten Years of Scientific Findings

Jun 10, 2014, 15:16 ET from National Fisheries Institute

WASHINGTON, June 10, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today released draft advice that strongly encourages pregnant and breastfeeding women to eat more fish as part of a healthy diet. The new advice is an update to the agencies' 2004 advice, which was widely misinterpreted as a warning. In fact, the new draft advice recommends pregnant and breastfeeding women eat a minimum of 8 ounces of seafood weekly; this replaces the prior emphasis on a maximum that often discouraged pregnant women and children from eating fish. Scientific studies published in the last decade show that women who eat a variety of fish at least two times each week during pregnancy have babies with enhanced brain development. Importantly, skipping fish may mean missing out on this benefit. The new draft advice is in line with seafood recommendations released within the last several years, including the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans as well as advice from the World Health Organization.

American moms-to-be currently eat less than half a serving of seafood weekly. The updated draft advice, "Fish: What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know" encourages pregnant and breastfeeding women to quadruple the amount of fish they eat each week in order to gain important developmental and health benefits:

  • The nutritional value of fish is important during growth and development before birth, in early infancy for breastfed infants and in childhood.
  • Eat 8-12 ounces of a variety of fish a week. That's 2 or 3 servings of fish a week.

"These recommendations are of particular importance for women of child-bearing age in that they make clear the positive impact that fish consumption has on growth and development, as well as general health," said Dr. Laura Jana, pediatrician and award-winning author of Heading Home with Your Newborn and Food Fights.  "It has been both striking and concerning to me how misunderstood previous fish recommendations have been. A vast majority of pregnant women don't eat anywhere close to the recommended amount of fish per week that we now know provides important health benefits to both mom and baby."

In developing the draft advice, the FDA conducted a unique assessment based on more than 110 peer-reviewed studies on the net effect of eating fish titled, "Quantitative Assessment of the Net Effects of Fetal Neurodevelopment from Eating Commercial Fish (As Measured by IQ and also by Early Age Verbal Development)." In this assessment, also released today, both the beneficial nutrients in fish like omega-3s and traces of naturally-occurring mercury were considered. It was found that women who eat a variety of fish 2 to 3 times per week during pregnancy can get the nutrients they need without introducing concerns.

"The FDA's findings and updated advice support the concern that there are potential risks associated with not eating fish," said Dr. Jana. "With the FDA, EPA and the U.S. Dietary Guidelines now all strongly supporting the recommendation to eat 2 to 3 servings of fish a week, I hope that everyone – pregnant women in particular – get this message about the fundamental importance of fish in our diets."

Despite the strong endorsement for eating more seafood during pregnancy, the draft advice will need to be analyzed in full to ensure it is both scientifically accurate and easy for moms-to-be and new moms to understand and act on.

"The draft FDA and EPA advice is a great starting point for encouraging women to eat more seafood for the health benefits," said Jennifer McGuire MS, RD, National Fisheries Institute. "We look forward to working with the scientific community to advise the FDA and EPA on how to further improve the advice so that women make eating more fish during pregnancy and breastfeeding a priority."

The draft FDA advice is available here.  For more information about the health benefits of fish and easy-to follow recipes, visit www.GetRealAboutSeafood.com.

SOURCE National Fisheries Institute