A study published in the March 2009 issue of the Journal of Nutrition found that 78% of Canadian children ranging from four to eight years old were not receiving adequate amounts of Omega-3 EPA and DHA in their diets. That estimate is based on the suggested daily intake of 90 mg of Omega-3 EPA/DHA, as recommended by the Institute of Medicine. The suggested daily intake from the American Dietician Association and the Dieticians of Canada is 351 mg. By that standard, 90% of children who participated in the study were deficient. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has estimated that the average consumption of Omega-3 EPA/DHA for children four to eight years of age in the U.S. is only 50 mg per day. Thus, American children are typically DHA-deficient as well.
The Guelph University researchers who conducted the study concluded that additional education is needed to help consumers understand the benefits of DHA. "There is an apparent need to create greater awareness of the importance of the long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids among both health professionals and the general public, as well as the existing gap between actual and recommended intakes from various sources,” researchers stated in their findings.
NBJ recently spoke with Ethan Leonard, VP of Pediatric Nutrition for Martek Biosciences, who underscored the need for children to start getting the necessary dosage of DHA early in their lives. “DHA and ARA are proven to improve developmental outcomes in infants through breast milk, or substitutes. Martek recommends breast feeding first. If they cannot, or choose not to breast feed, then we want to participate in that and provide the best nutrition process possible.”
Martek Biosciences has established itself as the leading supplier of DHA and ARA to the infant nutrition market in the U.S. The company estimates that its life’sDHA and life’sARA products are used in more than 95% of infant formulas in the U.S. and are found in over 75 global markets. The company generated more than $352 million in global revenues in 2008, but still feels that there is untapped potential in the market for DHA. “American kids and North American kids don’t eat a ton of fish, whether it’s due to economic factors, or increasing problems with allergens and containments. We’re seeing in our own work that these products [fortified with ARA and DHA] are coming to market and will continue to come to market to fill in gaps,” said Martek’s Senior Public Relations Manager Cassie France-Kelly. Still, there are challenges in trying to educate consumers on the benefits of a product that does not have the name-recognition that other fortification ingredients like calcium or fiber do. “This idea that you eat to improve your intelligence or long term brain health is a sort of a new idea. When I was a kid we always heard you drink your milk for strong bones, but you didn’t hear a lot of, ‘If you eat this, you’re going to do better on your test or you’re going to have better concentration.’ The science has continued to develop and parents like the idea that you can eat something to contribute to cognitive and brain,” France-Kelly told NBJ.
So how does a company like Martek, which is predominately a supply company as opposed to a finished goods manufacturer, go about educating consumers? “We follow loosely the Intel Inside model. Although we are a business-to-business brand, we think that because our source is superior and because it’s such a complicated topic, it’s important to create a brand for consumers. That’s why we did life’sDHA a few years ago,” Martek’s Executive Director of Sales Jeff Bernfeld told NBJ. The company also has invested in print and television marketing, and has recently partnered with the March of Dimes to promote the importance of DHA.
While studies like the one conducted by Guelph University illustrate that a need for education still exists, Martek is seeing positive indicators that awareness is increasing. Based on an annual thousand-person survey conducted by the company, 78% of parents with kids less than 2 are aware of DHA, 68% of parents with kids two to six are aware of DHA and 82% of pregnant women have heard of DHA.
Read more about the Guelph University study here.