The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in the Standard American Diet (SAD) is anywhere from 10:1 to 20:1. That means consumption of omega-6 fats is 10 to 20 times more than omega-3 fats in the SAD diet. This ratio should more like 2:1 to 4:1 in order to maintain healthy omega-3 levels. We’re simply eating far too many omega-6 fats and too few omega-3 fats.

A recent study published in the journal Maternal and Child Nutrition found that children aged 12 to 60 months eat a diet that puts their ratio at 10:1. Not an ideal ratio, to say the least. The researchers looked at data from 2,500 children in the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a nationally-representative sample of children, so we can conclude that the majority of US children are low in omega-3 fat intake.

“In addition, intake of a key fatty acid known as DHA in children 12 to 60 months of age was low—lower than what infants generally consume—and it did not increase with age,” stated Sarah Keim, PhD, lead researcher. “Only about 54 percent of children ate fish at least once in the previous month.”

The Institute of Medicine has set a “reasonable intake” level of two 3-oz servings of fish per week for children. “According to our research, however, children are clearly not consuming this much fish.”

In another recent study published in the Public Library of Sciences ONE journal, Oxford University researchers studied the omega-3 levels of 493 UK schoolchildren aged seven to nine years with below-average reading levels, and they found that the children’s total omega-3 fatty acid levels were 2.54 percent, which is well below healthy levels. “From a sample of nearly 500 schoolchildren, we found that levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood significantly predicted a child’s behavior and ability to learn. Higher levels of omega-3 in the blood, and DHA in particular, were associated with better reading and memory, as well as with fewer behavior problems as rated by parents and teachers,” stated co-author Paul Montgomery.

Intake of omega-3 fats should begin during pregnancy and continue through breastfeeding, when the mother provides these important fats for her infant. After weaning, omega-3 intake must come from the diet. Because low omega-3 levels have been linked to such conditions as ADHD, behavior and learning problems, allergies, obesity, and more, it is crucial that our children get enough of this essential fat. “Dietary habits can form very early, so starting with a balanced diet may have long-lasting effects for children’s health.”

A fish oil supplement specially formulated for children is a great way to increase omega-3 levels, especially if the child does not like fish or if you are concerned about the mercury content of certain fish.