Omega 3 for children

It's good for their brain, eyes and central nervous system - but how much is enough?

Want smart kids?

Let's face it – every parent wants to raise smart, healthy kids. And much has been said and written about the effects of omega-3s on the developing brain and the overall health of children. Studies suggest that long-chain omega-3s, in particular DHA, are important for normal development of the brain, eyes and central nervous system in younger children. And makers of omega 3 products would be the first to endorse this message.

But after the first few years of life, the message around omega-3s is unclear. There's plenty of confusion on the part of parents around how much omega-3 their child should be having, and when a supplement is necessary.

What the research says

There's been a lot of research around using omega-3s for treating children with behavioural and learning problems such as ADHD and dyslexia. Increasing omega-3 content may improve symptoms of these conditions, but more research needs to be done on whether healthy children benefit from supplementation.

The research, while inconclusive, suggests some children and teenagers may experience increased concentration and higher cognitive performance. In any case, it's fair to say that a healthy diet for your child should include long-chain omega-3s.

How much do they need?

While we know children need omega-3s for normal development in early childhood, but researchers don't know exactly how much is needed throughout growth to adulthood. For children 14-plus, the Heart Foundation recommends a daily intake of 500mg a day, the same as for adults. For children younger than this, the recommendations get a little hazy. It has been suggested that the 500mg should be adjusted for the lower weight of children in this category, but there are no guidelines around the best way to calculate this, or evidence to say it is appropriate.

The Government Nutritional Reference Values (NRVs) say children need between 40–70mg per day depending on their age. This recommendation is based on the average intake of this group. It has been shown that children only consume small amounts of long-chain omega-3s so it can be assumed this may not be the optimum intake.

What foods contain omega-3?

Oily fish is the best source of omega-3s for both children and adults. But as we know it can be difficult to get children to eat certain foods, and fish often fits into this category.

Milk and yoghurt products are the primary focus of omega-3 fortification, and these also come packaged with other goodies like protein and calcium. But because there is no set dose for children beyond the NRVs, it's difficult to say whether the amount found in these products will have any therapeutic benefit.


There are numerous omega-3 supplements now available for children, coming in many flavoured chewable capsules. For a healthy child, taking a fish oil supplement is generally considered safe and the child may even experience some benefits. Although, because of the haze around how much omega-3s kids need, it can be confusing trying to decide on the best product.

The bottom line is (as with any adult supplement) look for the one containing the highest amount of both types of long-chain omega-3: DHA and EPA. For children you're not recommended to exceed the dose listed on the label.

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