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Americas: Young children, pregnant and breastfeeding women should have more fish, say US authorities

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The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have on June 10, 2014 issued draft updated advice on fish consumption.

The two agencies have concluded pregnant and breastfeeding women, those who might become pregnant, and young children should eat more fish that is lower in mercury in order to gain important developmental and health benefits.

Both say the draft updated advice is consistent with recommendations in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Previously, the FDA and the EPA recommended maximum amounts of fish that these population groups should consume, but did not promote a minimum amount.

Over the past decade, however, emerging science has underscored the importance of appropriate amounts of fish in the diets of pregnant and breastfeeding women, and young children.

“For years many women have limited or avoided eating fish during pregnancy or feeding fish to their young children,” said Stephen Ostroff, MD, FDA’s acting chief scientist.

“But emerging science now tells us that limiting or avoiding fish during pregnancy and early childhood can mean missing out on important nutrients that can have a positive impact on growth and development as well as on general health.”

Consumption trends

An FDA analysis of seafood consumption data from more than 1,000 pregnant women in the US found that 21% of them did not consume fish in the previous month, and those who ate fish ate far less than the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends—with 50% eating fewer than two ounces a week, and 75% eating fewer than four ounces a week.

The draft updated advice recommends pregnant women eat at least eight ounces and up to 12 ounces (two to three servings) per week of a variety of fish that are lower in mercury to support fetal growth and development.

“Eating fish with lower levels of mercury provides numerous health and dietary benefits,” said Nancy Stoner, the EPA’s acting assistant administrator for the Office of Water.

“This updated advice will help pregnant women and mothers make informed decisions about the right amount and right kinds of fish to eat during important times in their lives and their children’s lives.”

The draft updated advice cautions pregnant or breastfeeding women to avoid four types of fish that are associated with high mercury levels: tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico; shark; swordfish; and king mackerel.

In addition, the draft updated advice recommends limiting consumption of white (albacore) tuna to six ounces a week.

Choices lower in mercury include some of the most commonly eaten fish, such as shrimp, pollock, salmon, canned light tuna, tilapia, catfish and cod.