Food and Behaviour Research

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Low blood Long Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids in UK Children Are Associated with Poor Cognitive Performance and Behavior: A Cross-Sectional Analysis from the DOLAB Study

Paul Montgomery, Jennifer R. Burton, Richard P. Sewell, Thees F. Spreckelsen, Alexandra J. Richardson (2013) PLoS One Published June 24   

Web URL: View this and related abstracts via PubMed here. Free full text of this article is available online.



Omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFA), especially DHA (docosahexaenonic acid) are essential for brain development and physical health. Low blood Omega-3 LC-PUFA have been reported in children with ADHD and related behavior/learning difficulties, as have benefits from dietary supplementation. Little is known, however, about blood fatty acid status in the general child population. We therefore investigated this in relation to age-standardized measures of behavior and cognition in a representative sample of children from mainstream schools.


493 schoolchildren aged 7–9 years from mainstream Oxfordshire schools, selected for below average reading performance in national assessments at age seven.


Whole blood fatty acids were obtained via fingerstick samples. Reading and working memory were assessed using the British Ability Scales (II). Behaviour (ADHD-type symptoms) was rated using the revised Conners’ rating scales (long parent and teacher versions). Associations were examined and adjusted for relevant demographic variables.


DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), accounted for only 1.9% and 0.55% respectively of total blood fatty acids, with DHA showing more individual variation. Controlling for sex and socio-economic status, lower DHA concentrations were associated with poorer reading ability (std. OLS coeff. = 0.09, p < .042) and working memory performance (0.14, p?


In these healthy UK children with below average reading ability, concentrations of DHA and other Omega-3 LC-PUFA were low relative to adult cardiovascular health recommendations, and directly related to measures of cognition and behavior. These findings require confirmation, but suggest that the benefits from dietary supplementation with Omega-3 LC-PUFA found for ADHD, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, and related conditions might extend to the general school population.


For a summary of this research and its implications, see the associated news article:

Previous studies have shown links between low omega-3 status and behaviour and learning difficulties in children with ADHD and related conditions. (See Bloch & Qawasmi 2011) Importantly, this study extends these findings into the general school population.

Simple associations alone are never enough to provide definitive evidence of a causal link, i.e. 'correlation is not causation'.

Nonetheless, these findings are consisten with the proposal that the benefits from dietary supplementation with Omega-3 LC-PUFA for which there is already some clinical trial evidence in ADHD, DCD, Dyslexia, and related conditions might even extend to the general school population.

This proposal was supported by the results of the subsequent DOLAB intervention trial. This was a randomised controlled trial (i.e. a study design that CAN provide definitive evidence of causality), involving 362 of the children who took part in the observational study reported here.

A special FAB Research conference on the DOLAB study findings was held in 2013. The full programme and abstracts can be downladed here: 

For more information on the DOLAB studies, see: