Cod for kids: Eating fish just once a week can reduce disease risk among infants

TRONDHEIM, Norway — Young children and infants are notoriously picky eaters, but according to a new study conducted in Norway, parents should make an effort to feed their babies some fish at least once per week to reduce their chances of developing asthma, eczema, and hay fever by the age of six.

Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and St. Olavs Hospital say that babies who regularly ate fish between during the first two years of their life enjoyed a reduction of anywhere from 28-40% fewer occurrences of various diseases.

“We compared children who ate fish at least once a week until they were two years old with children who consumed less fish than that,” comments first author Torbjørn Øien, an associate professor in NTNU’s Department of Public Health and Nursing, in a release.

For the study, researchers used data collected for a pediatric allergy survey in Trondheim, Norway that started collecting information in 2000. Data on more than 4,000 families was incorporated into this new analysis, which investigated the relationship between both the mother’s and child’s fish consumption and the child’s subsequent development of either asthma, eczema, or hay fever.

It’s worth noting that all three of those conditions have become increasingly common in Norway since the 1950s, and researchers do not believe it is a coincidence that Norwegians have steadily been eating less and less fish during that period as well.

“It seems that eating all types of fish provides a health benefit, not just fatty fish,” says senior author Melanie Rae Simpson.

The study’s authors say they did what they could to account for other possible factors that may have influenced their findings, such as socioeconomic status. That being said, they admit that it is possible that children of more financially stable parents have more health advantages than others, and lower disease rates among this socioeconomic class may be due to multiple contributing factors, and not just fish consumption.

“In line with previous meta-analyses of several studies, we found that consuming fish at the age of one year seems to reduce the risk of eczema, asthma and wheezing at the age of six. This is more significant than the mother’s intake of fish and cod liver oil during pregnancy and breastfeeding or the child’s intake at two years, which do not appear to have the same protective effect,” Øien says.

According to researchers, if prospective parents take anything away from their study, it should be to feed their newborns fish regularly during the first year of their life to help prevent eczema and asthma five to six years down the line.

The study is published in the scientific journal Nutrients.

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John Anderer

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