Can early intake of dietary omega-3 predict childhood externalizing behaviour?

Acta Paediatr. 2009 Nov;98(11):1805-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1651-2227.2009.01434.x. Epub 2009 Jul 22.


Aim: To determine whether maternal and child intake of dietary omega-3 (n-3) fatty acids (FA), together with the presence or absence of breast-feeding, predicted psychiatric diagnosis of externalizing disorders in childhood.

Methods: Data concerning childhood externalizing disorders were collected from 8242 children aged 7.9 years in a large British cohort. Intake of n-3 FA was measured for the study mother during pregnancy and for the child at 3 years. Duration of breast-feeding was examined to account for moderating effects. Adjustment was made for a variety of potential confounders.

Results: Maternal intake of n-3 and breast-feeding predicted oppositional/conduct disorder and comorbid externalizing disorder before adjustment for confounding factors. However, there was no association between intake of n-3 by mother or child and any type of externalizing disorder once socio-demographic factors were taken into account.

Conclusions: Any association between intake of n-3 and childhood externalizing disorders appears to be strongly confounded with socio-demographic factors. This is important to note given the current popularity of n-3 as a possible treatment for behaviour problems related to inattention and impulsivity. Care must be taken that studies investigating this relationship account fully for factors associated with both behaviour and diet.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Feeding*
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Child Behavior Disorders / prevention & control
  • Child Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / prevention & control
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Sex Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3