The Bias Against Seafood and Omega-3s
The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans were released last week and predictably, they caused controversy and a media firestorm. I say ‘predictably’ because every time they are updated, it makes various interest groups unhappy. However, from our perspective, they continue to reinforce the important role of seafood and omega-3s in the diet, noting that virtually ALL of the EPA and DHA in the American diet are provided by seafood. However, you really would not know seafood is a critical component of the new guidelines if you looked at the media coverage.
To be clear, the Dietary Guidelines identified six components of a healthy eating pattern:
- A variety of vegetables, including dark green, red and orange, legumes, starchy and other vegetables
- Fruits, especially whole fruits
- Grains, half of which are whole grains
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese and soy beverages
- A variety of proteins, including seafood, lean meats, poultry and eggs
But what did the media pull out of this? Well, they certainly covered the Dietary Guidelines release, generating more than 1.4 million news stories according to Google News. Take a guess at how many of those stories mentioned seafood? Only 12,700, or 0.09%, of the dietary guidelines stories even mentioned seafood.
It left me to wonder, why is there such a large bias against seafood? It could be concerns about the environment — there are lots of stories about the collapse of the oceans in the media. However, as we pointed out to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, the seafood Americans choose to eat come from well-maintained fisheries, not the overfished regions of the world. It could be all of the stories rejecting the benefits of omega-3s that have graced publications like the New York Times and Washington Post, but don’t forget the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee conducted a thorough review of the science and concluded the opposite (as did the US AHRQ). So what is it then?
Just so you do not think I am some crazy conspiracy theorist, there is hard evidence of a bias against seafood. The only diet component that received less coverage than seafood was soy milk, which is a VERY specific subcomponent of the dairy category.
The report also quantified the amounts of these various groups of foods that Americans are actually consuming, compared to the recommended levels, and this is what is so infuriating about the media coverage. No age group consumes enough seafood in the US, and more importantly, the gap between actual seafood consumption and recommended levels is larger than for any other component of the diet.
The Dietary Guidelines are trying to encourage changes in the American diet to healthier eating patterns, but the media completely missed the point and did not talk about the simplest change required to make what, I would argue, is the biggest impact we can have on American eating patterns.