A massive amount of media 'hype' surrounds the whole issue of whether fatty acids (mainly the omega-3 from fish oils) can help child behaviour and learning.
As the first person to carry out controlled trials in this area, I am all too well aware how grossly the mass media (fed by press releases from the companies who sell the supplements) can twist the facts to promote their own interests (i.e. to make money).
Sadly, the huge amount of misleading information has made many people very sceptical - particularly those in the medical profession, but also many other professionals, parents and policymakers.
Today's newspapers will be full of more 'miracle stories' following the publication of results from a new trial of 'fatty acids for ADHD symptoms'. These will be scorned by the sceptics as yet more examples of overly-simplistic thinking (i.e. 'Pill solves complex social problems') - and those who rush to buy supplements will be derided as fools easily parted from their money. (For the supplement used in this particular trial, this might be a justifiable claim given its high price compared with many others. But that's how they can afford all the advertising.)
As usual - the real truth is more complicated. But company press releases do drive most mass media stories. So here is the press release that triggered many of today's news stories - followed by some commentary on what the results of the study really indicated, for those who actually care.
And you can read the scientific abstract for yourself - along with some reported comments from the lead author and the Food Standards Agency - at ******
Subject: PRESS CONFERENCE ON OMEGA-3 FISH OIL RESEARCH
NEW PUBLISHED TRIAL BOLSTERS EVIDENCE THAT OMEGA-3 FISH OIL CAN BENEFIT CHILDREN WITH ADHD SYMPTOMS
Results from the largest, clinical-based omega-3 and omega-6 trial of its kind are to be presented today, bolstering a growing body of
evidence worthy of review by the Foods Standard Agency on the question of whether all school children should be given omega-3 supplements.
A double blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial conducted by The University of South Australia and the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation of Human Nutrition, has shown significant improvements amongst 132 children aged 7-12yrs with
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder symptoms.
You are invited to hear Dr Natalie Sinn, PhD, Lead Researcher from The University of Australia present these fascinating results for the first time and have an opportunity to participate in a questions and answers session.
Tuesday 17th April 2007
11.00 Keynote presentation by Dr Natalie Sinn
11.45 Q&A session
12.30 Optional buffet lunch
RSVP to (** company contact details**)
Spaces are limited and must be reserved
Now let's look at this more closely
The content seems simple enough. "Come to a free lunch and be given your news story."
And there are some brilliant hook lines:
For those without access to the full paper, some important points worth knowing are:
So what CAN we conclude? As usual, the truth is rather less exciting than the headlines.
These were essentially the kind of comments attributed to the lead researcher in this study, Natalie Sinn of Adelaide University. She also emphasised how many important questions still need to be addressed by further research.
That's what we still need - not yet more hype.