Birthweight in a fishing community: significance of essential fatty acids and marine food contaminants

Int J Epidemiol. 2001 Dec;30(6):1272-8. doi: 10.1093/ije/30.6.1272.


Background: Marine food provides essential fatty acids that are important during pregnancy, but the benefits may be limited at high intakes and by seafood contaminants.

Methods: In the fishing community of the Faroe Islands, 182 pregnant women with spontaneous singleton births were consecutively recruited for a cohort in 1994- 1995. Concentrations of fatty acids and seafood contaminants in blood samples were analysed as predictors of gestational length and birthweight.

Results: Serum concentrations of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) increased with maternal marine food intake, while the tendency was less clear for docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). An increase in the relative concentration of DHA in cord serum phospholipids by 1% was associated with an increased duration of gestation by 1.5 days (95% CI : 0.7-2.2). However, birthweight adjusted for gestational length decreased by 246 g (95% CI : 16-476) for each increase by 1% of the EPA concentration in cord serum. Concentrations of the seafood pollutants mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) were associated with fatty acids levels, but the contaminants did not appear to affect any of the outcome parameters.

Conclusion: An increased intake of marine fats appears to prolong the duration of gestation, but birthweight adjusted for gestational age may decrease at high intake levels. This effect does not seem to be due to increased exposures to seafood contaminants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Birth Weight*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Denmark
  • Diet
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / blood*
  • Female
  • Food Contamination*
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Mercury / blood*
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / blood*
  • Pregnancy / blood*
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk Factors
  • Seafood*


  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls
  • Mercury