Federal agencies are meeting now through next March to define U.S. dietary guidelines for 2020-2025, and a high powered group of doctors and nutritionists are making sure the health benefits of seafood are front and center.
For the first time in the 40 year history of the program, the dietary guidelines committee has posted the questions they are going to consider. They include the role of seafood in the neurocognitive development in pregnant moms for their babies, and in the diet of kids from birth to 24 months directly, said Dr. Tom Brenna, professor of pediatrics and nutrition at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas.
“We really got jazzed when we saw that because we wanted to figure out what the committee would find when it does its literature search on what medical evidence is out there and boy, did we find a lot,” Brenna said.
Brenna also chairs the advisory council of the Seafood Nutrition Partnership which on September 17 is holding its 3rd annual State of the Science Symposium in Washington, DC. The non-profit hosts the event as part of a public health campaign started in 2015 aimed at getting Americans to eat more seafood.
Over 40 studies address the two committee questions, Brenna said, and provide evidence of how nutrients in seafood, such as omega 3 fatty acids, are so especially important to brain and eye development.
“The brain and the retina in the eye are omega 3 organs. As calcium is to the bones, omega 3 is to the brain,” he said. “These kinds of data are exactly the kind of human study the dietary guidelines focus on, They are not cell studies, not rat studies, they are based on real studies on humans. It’s direct evidence. That’s why we are so excited.”
For centuries fish has been regarded as “brain food” and a plethora of studies has shown that seafood can prevent or relieve dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and reduce depression, among other things.
“I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t be thinking of seafood if they wanted to keep their brain in good working order,” Brenna said, adding that he is baffled why such positive health messages have not “stuck” in the U.S.
Unlike the meat or dairy industries who use sustained, national campaigns such as “Where’s the Beef?” or “Got Milk? the seafood industry has never banded together on its own behalf.
“Getting the seafood industry together to promote one message has been difficult,” Brenna said, adding that the industry appears fragmented instead of coming together as a national “whole.”
He is hopeful that putting the spotlight on seafood’s health advantages will help move the message and that national media will show more interest.
“We’re generating the ammunition for the policy guys,” Brenna said. “There’s only so much that the science guys can do and boy, we’ve spent a lot of time doing it. We can lay the evidence in front of the policy makers. They have to implement it.”
The 2015-2020 dietary guidelines recommended at least two servings of seafood per week, but only one in 10 follow the recommendation. Consumption of seafood by Americans reached 16 pounds per person in 2017, in increase of 1.1 pounds over 2016, according to federal data.
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee will meet five times with the last meeting tentatively scheduled for March 12-13, 2020. All meetings are open to the public and two will include opportunity for public comment.
Written comments are being accepted until the committee completes its work. A final report will be submitted to the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services.