US and UK urge parents to feed more seafood to children

Published on
May 24, 2019

“How can we engender enthusiasm in children for eating seafood?” asked Karen Galloway – owner of KAGC Limited, a company specialized in strategic development and consumer insights, and a former employee at Seafish – in her Drummond Lecture at the Shellfish Association of Great Britain this week. “Many studies have shown that children who eat seafood regularly have increased IQ and a better quality of sleep, yet parents in the U.K. are failing to take these messages onboard.”  

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also happened to release a report this week identifying that children in the U.S. are not eating enough seafood and recommending that urgent action be taken to address this.

“It’s down to us as parents to influence our children, but don’t forget that children also influence parents, so we need to listen to them, and if they want to try seafood then let them, even if you don’t personally like it,” said Galloway.

She suggested keeping seafood comfortable, giving it some crunch, focusing on favorite flavors, putting it between bread, even taking it outdoors. 

Advertising has a major influence on our lives and our food choices and Galloway pointed out that a “Kids Against Plastic” campaign has a massive reach, particularly because schools have taken the messaging onboard. However, advertising can also go wrong, and she warned that using cute characters to encourage kids into seafood could have the opposite effect.

“Anthropomorphism encourages conservation, not consumption; children don’t want to eat a cartoon character, so please don’t make seafood cute,” she said.

Looking at shellfish in particular, Galloway pointed out that the majority of people look online for recipe ideas, yet on many sites there are more recipes for cooking chickpeas than shellfish.

“We need to address this; we need to challenge the dominance of chicken in the recipe stakes, because the nutritional benefits of eating seafood are huge,” she said. 

Urging the seafood industry to take a fresh look at the way it tells the story of seafood, Galloway recommended that messages be short, snappy, and visual, and aim to make consumers feel good about a brand.

“Make it about people, place, craftsmanship and history, but tell a good story because people will retain 60-70 percent of what they hear," she said. "Give them facts and only 10 percent will be retained. Adam Grant in a Ted Talk, spoke about taking a different view of something and seeing it with fresh eyes. He called this ‘vuja de,’ and that is exactly what we need."

The U.S. report from the AAP, titled “Fish, Shellfish, and Children’s Health: An Assessment of Benefits, Risks, and Sustainability,” outlines evidence on the health advantages of eating seafood, while helping pediatricians point parents to the safest sources.

It highlights that seafood consumption by U.S. children has declined every year since 2007, and that fish and shellfish make up a relatively small part of their diets compared to red meat and chicken. The main reason why many families avoid feeding their children fish, and why women avoid it during pregnancy, is concern over methylmercury pollution, according to the physicians behind the report.   

“We’re encouraging pediatricians to ask families about fish and shellfish consumption, since most children don’t eat much beyond the occasional fish sticks, and advise them on the healthiest choices,” said lead author Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH, FAAP.

However, making that choice is not always easy, with mixed messages from different organizations and agencies making it difficult to work out what is best to eat. And when a choice becomes difficult, people take the easy alternative.  

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency recommend that children from aged two and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, eat one to two weekly servings of a variety of fish featured on its best and good list of choices. Fish not to eat include king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, swordfish, and tuna. However, people who eat freshwater fish caught by family or friends should check for fish advisories, and if there is no advisory, the recommendation is to eat only one serving and no other fish that week. 

Dr. Bernstein said that learning about different types of fish and shellfish, and adding more of it to childrens’ diets, should be a goal of every family.  

“For most types of seafood, the nutritional benefits far outweigh the risks,” he said.

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