Association between fish consumption, dietary omega-3 fatty acids and persistent organic pollutants intake, and type 2 diabetes in 18 First Nations in Ontario, Canada

Environ Res. 2017 Jul:156:725-737. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2017.04.034. Epub 2017 May 5.


Background: First Nations (FNs) populations in Canada experience a disproportionally higher rate of obesity and type 2 diabetes (T2D) compared to the general population. Recent data suggest that a high consumption of fish may help prevent T2D. On the other hand, fish might also be a potential source of environmental contaminants which could potentially be a risk factor for T2D.

Objective: To investigate the potential associations between self-reported T2D and consumption of locally-harvested fish, dietary long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (n-3FAs) and persistent organic pollutants intake among adult FNs living on reserve in Ontario.

Design: Data from the First Nations Food Nutrition and Environment Study, which included a cross-sectional study of 1429 Ontario FNs adults living in 18 communities across 4 ecozones in 2012 were analyzed. Social and lifestyle data were collected using household interviews. The consumption of locally-harvested fish was estimated using a traditional food frequency questionnaire along with portion size information obtained from 24hr recalls. Fish samples were analyzed for the presence of contaminants including dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Dietary intakes of DDE and PCBs were estimated using community-specific levels of DDE/PCBs in fish species. Multiple logistic regression models adjusted for potential covariates including age, gender, body mass index, physical activity, total energy intake, smoking, and education were developed.

Results: The prevalence of T2D in Ontario FNs was 24.4%. A significant positive association between fish consumption of one portion per week and more and T2D compared to no fish consumption was found (OR=2.5 (95% CI: 1.38-4.58). Dietary DDE and PCBs intake was positively associated with T2D (OR=1.09 (95%CI: 1.05-1.75) for DDE and OR=1.07 (95%CI: 1.004-1.27) for PCBs) per unit increase in DDE/PCBs while n-3-FAs intake, adjusted for DDE/PCBs intake, showed an inverse effect against T2D among older individuals (OR=0.86 (95% CI: 0.46-0.99).

Conclusion: Our results support previous findings that exposure to DDE and PCBs may increase the risk of T2D. Elevated levels of contaminants in fish may counteract with potentially beneficial effects of n-3FAs from fish consumption. However, the overall health benefits of high consumption of fish with a high n-3 FAs content may outweigh the adverse effect of contaminants.

Keywords: First Nations; Fish consumption; Long-chain n-3 fatty acids; Persistent organic pollutants; Type 2 diabetes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Animals
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology*
  • Diet
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3*
  • Female
  • Fishes*
  • Food Contamination / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Ontario / epidemiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3