New FDA Advice for Pregnant Women on Seafood Consumption

We all know that Seafood is an important part of a healthy diet containing critical vitamins and nutrients, such as Omega 3s, which are essential during pregnancy to ensure optimal fetal and child development.

Unfortunately, back in 2004, the FDA advice to pregnant women communicated an overly risk averse message on seafood consumption that created confusion and caused pregnant women to reduce or eliminate seafood from their diet during pregnancy. A wealth of recent scientific studies indicates that reduced seafood consumption has resulted in an Omega 3 deficiency during pregnancy. The 2004 FDA advice does not reflect the latest science and is inconsistent with NEWER federal advice and therefore must be updated.

On January 31, 2011, USDA and HHS released the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) with an updated message regarding the importance of seafood consumption — particularly during pregnancy.
The new DGAs conclude “the benefits of consuming seafood far outweigh the risks, even for pregnant women” and recommend a quadrupling of current consumption rates. The Dietary Guidelines also state:

  • “the nutritional value of seafood is of particular importance during fetal growth and development, as well as in early infancy and childhood.”
  • “it is recommended that women who are pregnant or breast-feeding consume at least 8 and up to 12 ounces of a variety of seafood per week.”
  • “Obstetricians and pediatricians should provide guidance to women who are pregnant or breastfeeding to help them make healthy food choices that include seafood.”

This new DGA message creates an inconsistency with the 2004 FDA advice that must be resolved. The overly precautionary message in the 2004 advice has been misinterpreted as a warning for all Americans to reduce or stop eating seafood and has lead pregnant women to decrease seafood consumption to less than 2 ounces per week on average, according to FDA data. New science that was not available in 2004 supports eating more, not less, seafood during pregnancy, for instance:

  • Danish National Birth Cohort Study (Sept. 2008). Emily Oken, MD of Harvard Medical School followed over 25,000 Danish mother/child pairs and concluded that mothers with the highest fish intake (14 ounces per week on average) had children 25% more likely to have higher developmental scores at 6 months and almost 30% more likely to score higher at 18 months.

On May 26, 2010, over 130 international scientists, physicians and dietitians wrote to FDA urging an update to the 2004 advisory stating “this advice has become outdated and…may be inadvertently causing harm.” In August 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued recommendations that UN members states “a video that concludes the 12 ounce seafood consumption limit established in the 2004 FDA advice results in a “doubling of the risk that the children would have low verbal I.Q.” Emphasize the neurodevelopment benefits to offspring of fish consumption by women of childbearing age, particularly pregnant women and nursing mothers, and the neurodevelopment risks to offspring of such women not consuming fish.” In 2011, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a video that concludes the 12 ounce seafood consumption limit established in the 2004 FDA advice results in a “doubling of the risk that the children would have low verbal I.Q.”

Numerous Members of Congress have written to the Administration requesting that the 2004 FDA advice be updated. On August 22, 2011, Secretary Sebelius wrote to Congress stating that the FDA was updating the 2004 advice “in light of the new scientific findings and Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” It has now been over a year since the Dietary Guidelines for Americans were issued with a new federal message to pregnant women on seafood consumption. The FDA must finalize new advice this year so that it becomes consistent with the latest science, and is also drafted in a manner that is understandable to the typical consumer.