Fatty acid compositions were determined of phospholipids isolated from venous cord plasma and from the walls of umbilical arteries and veins, collected from healthy, a terme, Inuit and Caucasian (Dutch) neonates. The Inuit fatty acid profiles were characterized by a lower essential fatty acid (EFA) status, with higher levels of monounsaturated fatty acids, of Mead acid [20:3(n-9)] and its direct elongation product, and with lower amounts of the longer chain (greater than or equal to 20 carbon atoms), highly unsaturated (greater than or equal to 4 double bonds) fatty acids of both the (n-3) and (n-6) families. Levels of linoleic- and dihomo-gamma-linolenic acids were higher in Inuit as compared to Caucasian neonates, which suggests a low activity of the delta-5-desaturase in the Inuit. Within the Inuit group, a higher intake of marine food was associated with a better neonatal (n-3) status. Although the differences between Inuit and Caucasian neonates may be of genetic rather than of dietary origin, the results imply that dietary long-chain (n-3) or (n-6) fatty acids may be particularly important during pregnancy in Inuit mothers. Further studies are indicated with respect to the EFA content of the habitual Inuit diet and levels of delta-5-desaturase activity in the Inuit.