Food and Behaviour Research

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Omega-3 (ω-3) and social skills interventions for reactive aggression and childhood externalizing behavior problems: a randomized, stratified, double-blind, placebo-controlled, factorial trial

Raine A, Ang RP, Choy O, Hibbeln JR, Ho RM, Lim CG, Lim-Ashworth NSJ, Ling S, Liu JCJ, Ooi YP, Tan YR, Fung DS (2018) Psychol Med.  2018 May: 1-10. doi: 10.1017/S0033291718000983. [Epub ahead of print] 

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While studies suggest that nutritional supplementation may reduce aggressive behavior in children, few have examined their effects on specific forms of aggression. This study tests the primary hypothesis that omega-3 (ω-3), both alone and in conjunction with social skills training, will have particular post-treatment efficacy for reducing childhood reactive aggression relative to baseline.


In this randomized, double-blind, stratified, placebo-controlled, factorial trial, a clinical sample of 282 children with externalizing behavior aged 7-16 years was randomized into ω-3 only, social skills only, ω-3 + social skills, and placebo control groups. Treatment duration was 6 months. The primary outcome measure was reactive aggression collected at 0, 3, 6, 9, and 12 months, with antisocial behavior as a secondary outcome.


Children in the ω-3-only group showed a short-term reduction (at 3 and 6 months) in self-report reactive aggression, and also a short-term reduction in overall antisocial behavior. Sensitivity analyses and a robustness check replicated significant interaction effects. Effect sizes (d) were small, ranging from 0.17 to 0.31.


Findings provide some initial support for the efficacy of ω-3 in reducing reactive aggression over and above standard care (medication and parent training), but yield only preliminary and limited support for the efficacy of ω-3 in reducing overall externalizing behavior in children. Future studies could test further whether ω-3 shows promise in reducing more reactive, impulsive forms of aggression.