Why are omega-3s so important for children?

Omega-3s provide numerous benefits, particularly for the retina of the eyes and cardiovascular health. It is  essential to include foods such as oily fish at least twice a week and to eat a few handfuls of nuts!

Understand everything about omega-3s

What are omega-3s?

Omega-3s are fatty acids, i.e., lipidic constituents, in other words, fats. More precisely, omega-3s belong to the family of polyunsaturated fatty acids, compounds that are essential to the proper functioning of the body. This family is made up of omega-6 and omega-3.

The precursor of all omega-3s is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). From this, the body can synthesize all the omega-3s, some of which are qualified as essential, such as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). It is therefore essential to have a diet sufficiently rich in omega-3 to compensate for any deficiencies.

What are the daily recommendations concerning omega-3 intake in children?

Health authorities establish daily nutritional recommendations to ensure a good supply for the body. Below are the recommendations issued by the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) concerning omega-3 intakes for children and adolescents:

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)

Infants (7-11 months, male and female)

0.5% of energy intake


Children (1 year, male and female)   

Children (2 – 3 years, male and female)        

Children (4 – 17 years, male and female)      

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)

Infants (7 – 11 months, male and female)

100 mg/day DHA

Children (1 year, male and female)

100 mg/day DHA

Children (2 – 3 years, male and female)

250 mg/day DHA + EPA

Children (4 – 17 years, male and female)

250 mg/day DHA + EPA

what are the current intakes of omega-3 in children in Belgium?

The latest food consumption survey in Belgium conducted between 2014 and 2015 show the following results.

Age category

Usual intake of DHA and EPA

3 – 5 years

75 mg/day

6 – 9 years

125 mg/day

10 – 13 years

154 mg/day

14 – 17 years

169 mg/day

The results show that Belgian children do not consume enough omega-3 daily.

Which foods are richest in omega 3?

Integrating foods rich in omega-3 into the daily diet does not present any great difficulties. Many foods can cover the body’s needs.

Vegetable sources are good sources. Flaxseed oil is undoubtedly the wealthiest oil, providing 53.3 grams of omega-3 per 100-gram serving. Other rarer oils such as chia oil or walnut oil can be used to enhance salad dressings while contributing to a good intake of omega 3. Be careful, however, to use these oils only in cold preparations, as they are not heat resistant. In terms of animals, fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon or red tuna play an essential role in varying the food sources of omega 3. 

What are the health benefits of omega 3?

Omega-3s act at different levels in the body. Here are some explanations:

Omega-3s contribute to eye health

Omega-3s are particularly present in the retina of the eyes. Indeed, the cells of the retina cannot function without the presence of omega 3. They allow the daily renewal of light-sensitive neurons. Thus, they contribute to the maintenance of normal vision. In addition, maternal intake of DHA contributes to the normal development of the eyes of the fetus and breastfed infants. 

Omega-3s contribute to normal fetal brain development

DHA is the major fatty acid in the brain. One study found significant effects on the performance of problem-solving tasks by 9-month-olds whose mothers had consumed DHA during pregnancy. Health authorities recognize that DHA consumption contributes to normal fetal brain development for a daily intake of 200 mg of DHA in addition to the recommended daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids for adults. 

Omega-3 contributes to the reduction of cardiovascular risks

Several large-scale studies have examined the impact of omega-3 intake on the secondary prevention of coronary heart disease, i.e., diseases affecting the arteries supplying the heart. For example, one study showed a 21% reduction in total mortality due to cardiovascular disease after omega-3 supplementation for populations that usually consume little fish. Omega-3s help reduces triglyceride levels, prevent blood vessel inflammation, and clot formation, and reduce the growth of plaque that clogs blood vessels.  


Omega-3s are defined as fatty acids, which are constituents of fats. Omega-3s provide numerous benefits, particularly for the retina of the eyes and cardiovascular health. Finally, omega-3s allow good development of the fetus’ brain and thus facilitate children’s learning. However, most children do not consume enough omega 3. It is therefore essential to include foods such as oily fish at least twice a week and to eat a few handfuls of nuts! 

Key take-home messages

  • Children are not getting enough omega-3s
  • Omega-3s have many benefits including eye, heart, and brain function
  • Diet plays a key role in ensuring a good intake
  • Fatty fish such as salmon, walnuts, and flaxseed oil are rich in omega-3


  • CIQUAL, Table de composition nutritionnelles des aliments, 2020
  • De Ridder et al., La consommation alimentaire, Enquête de Consommation Alimentaire 2014-2015, 2016
  • EFSA Panel on dietetic products, nutrition and allergies, Scientific opinion on dietary reference values for alpha-linolenic acid, docosahexaenoic acid, and eicosapentaenoic acid, 2019
  • Jacobson, Beyond Lipids: The Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids from Fish Oil in the Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease, Current Atherosclerosis Reports, 2007
  • Gray et al., Omega-3 fatty acids: a review of the effects on adiponectin and leptin and potential implications for obesity management, Nature, 2013
  • Judge et al., Maternal consumption of a docosahexaenoic acid-containing functional food during pregnancy: benefit for infant performance on problem-solving but not on recognition memory tasks at age 9 mo, The American journal of clinical nutrition, 2007
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  • Family cooking photo created by bearfotos <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/photos/family-cooking’> 
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