Pregnant Mothers Versus Fish

When it comes to seafood, pregnant and breastfeeding moms are in something of a bind. On the one hand, the omega-3 fatty acids from seafood aid in neural development. On the other hand, fish, especially those near the top of the aquatic food chain, have noticeable concentrations of mercury. In 2004, the FDA and EPA recommended that moms eat no more than 12 ounces a week of fish, and that they choose fish with lower mercury levels, such as shrimp, salmon, and catfish.

Understandably, a lot of moms opted out of eating fish all together. That can have negative consequences: a recent longitudinal study published in the Lancet indicated that not eating enough fish could lead to behavioral and developmental problems.

Enter Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies. In a press conference this morning, they recommended moms eat at least 12 ounces a week, if not more. Scientists are still hashing out the benefits and risks of eating fish, so why this, if you’ll pardon the expression, sea change?

And who are Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies? They’re not a new organization: they’ve been around since the early 1980s. And they list a number of notable organizations among their members, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the March of Dimes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and more.

Or, rather, they did list those organizations. NPR did some digging, with interesting results.

The top federal government agencies in charge of delivering public health messages expressed surprise over the announcement from Healthy Mothers, Healthy babies recommending increased fish consumption.

“We are members of the coalition, but we were not informed of this announcement in advance, and we do not support it,” says Christina Pearson, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Pearson says neither the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nor the Food and Drug Administration knew about the announcement.

Whoops. And as of right now, the members list of Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies no longer includes the American Academy of Pediatrics or the National Institutes of Health. Furthermore, it turns out the group took $60,000 from the National Fisheries Institute to pay for doctors’ “travel expenses to a Chicago meeting, where they came up with their new advice”.

(Note to members of advisory groups who read this blog: when you take any amount of money from an industry-funded group and come out in favor of something that helps that industry, it calls your science into question.)

Neonatal vitamins now include omega-3 fatty acids. Some varieties of milk have the omega-3 fatty acid DHA. And even the group’s list of other countries’ recommendations more-or-less come down on the side of 12 oz/340 grams/two portions of fish a week. Given that, I’d stick with the twelve-ounces-or-less approach and supplement with vitamins.

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4 Comments

  1. Joyous
    on October 4, 2007 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    Has anoyone said anything about shellfish?

  2. on October 5, 2007 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    Domestic farmed catfish and tilapia are both good choices for anyone — they’re farmed in a sustainable way. Eco-friendly fish farming often means closed-loop ponds, which reduces the likelihood of contaminants (although contaminated feed is always a possibility).

  3. seth vidal
    on October 5, 2007 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    My significant other looks for farmed catfish for a couple of good reasons:
    1. it tastes better than naturally caught catfish
    2. there is more control over the feed stocks

    Recently a couple of former tobacco farmers just south of chapel hill have converted their farms over to freshwater prawn farms. They just had their first harvest and are making a fair bit of hay (if you’ll forgive the pun) out of ‘locally grown seafood’. I don’t know what their feedstocks are but I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of these things are as seafood stocks collapse further and the pollution level in the fish becomes more widely known.

  4. on October 5, 2007 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Joyce, the FDA includes shellfish in their warnings.