Getting the health message across

Earlier this year the north east U.S. seafood restaurant chain, Legal Sea Foods, launched a series of advertisements featuring stupid things that people can do such as painting the floor in a room and ending up in a corner away from any door. The punch line reads: “Fish is brain food. We have fish.”

“Fish is brain food” is regarded as “an old wives’ tale” in the U.K.; it is one of those sayings that has been handed down over generations with no one quite knowing how it originated. It has since been shown scientifically that eating fish is good for the development of the brain in unborn babies and, indeed, on slowing down the onset of dementia in older people.

But, fish is more than just brain food.

The results of two scientific studies recently reported in the U.K. show that fish fed to babies reduces their risk of developing allergies in later life, while women who eat fish during pregnancy are less likely to feel anxious ahead of giving birth than those who don’t. The earlier study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, while the later one appeared in Plos One, an open access peer-reviewed scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science.

While both studies have been reported on, neither is likely to come to the attention of the general public. And this is a problem that the seafood industry faces. Most people have a general feeling that eating fish is good for them, but don’t know why.

Omega-3 logos are appearing on cans of oily fish and slogans such as “high in omega-3s” are appearing on fish packs, but most people don’t know what omega-3s actually are.

Meanwhile the U.K. government has drawn up official guidelines that recommend eating two portions of fish a week. But there is nothing about the health benefits of eating seafood in the mass media to catch the attention of the person in the street. Indeed, there is virtually nothing in the mass media promoting fish consumption at all.

The situation in other sectors of the food industry is very different. The exhortation to eat five portions of fruit or vegetables a day in the U.K. is now well known, although very few people actually know what a portion consists of. Going back in time, older people can remember slogans such as “Drinka pinta milk a day” and “Go to work on an egg.”

The only common messages about fish consumption now consist of: “Don’t eat such and such a species because it’s endangered.” Negative messages abound about how farming salmon off the west coast of Scotland decimates wild salmon stocks, and that the shrimp farming industry in Asia doesn’t employ anyone over the age of 12.

Admittedly these messages don’t emanate from the seafood industry itself, but then virtually no positive message about fish consumption, particularly its unique benefits to health, makes media headlines. Nowhere are people told that eating fish is good for them.

Meanwhile, the evidence that fish can improve human health just keeps on growing and growing.

But it seems as though the general public will remain in ignorance.

At least Legal Sea Foods is helping to at least get people thinking positively about fish, albeit in a somewhat offbeat fashion. It is a great pity that more people in the seafood industry don’t do their bit to publicize the health benefits of eating fish. A rise in fish consumption would help everyone involved in fisheries.


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