Consumption of omega-3s up, but not enough

North Americans are the world's biggest consumers of beverages containing omega 3, according to new data — but experts warn they still don't get enough of the nutrient.

Americans consume 2.2 litres of omega-3 fortified drinks per capita on average every year. Western Europeans drink an average of 1.3 litres each while consumers in Asia/Australasia consume only 0.1 litre.

This, according to Zenith International's 2008 Omega 3 Drinks report, also shows that North America accounted for 33% of global volume of omega-3 enriched drinks in 2006, followed by West Europe with 24% and Asia/Australasia slightly below at 23%.

Although these figures show Americans as the biggest consumers of drinks containing omega 3, new research from the Child & Family Research Institute in Vancuover suggest diets of North American women are deficient in the essential fatty acid, which could affect childhood development.

Researchers recruited 135 pregnant women and randomly assigned them to either a group that took an omega-3 fatty acid supplement or a placebo. All the women continued eating their regular diets. After their babies were born, the researchers used vision tests to evaluate the infants' ability to distinguish lines of different widths.

Researchers found that women who ate lots of meat and little fish were deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, and that their babies didn't do as well on eye tests as babies from mothers who weren't deficient. The results were noticeable as early as two months of age.

"Omega 3 fatty acids are important for the baby's developing eyes and brain," said Sheila Innis, PhD, the study's principal investigator from Dept. of Paediatrics, University of British Columbia. "During pregnancy and breastfeeding, fat consumed by the mum is transferred to the developing baby and breastfed infant, and this fat is important for the baby's developing organs," said Innis.

The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Martek Biosciences Corp provided the supplements.

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