World Health Organization

A Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation on Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases met in Geneva in 2002 to evaluate evidence for the role of diet in the prevention of nutritional deficiency and chronic disease. The Joint WHO/FAO committee’s report Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases recommends a shift in the conceptual framework for developing health care strategies that would place nutrition, together with the other principal risk factors for chronic disease, at the forefront of public health policies and programs (WHO/FAO, 2003).

The report examined the role of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in the prevention of chronic disease, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. Recommendations included that diets should provide a total intake of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in the range of 6–10 percent of daily energy (caloric) intake, but an optimal balance would include 5–8 percent of those percent as n-6 and 1–2 percent as n-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids include α-linolenic (ALA), eicosapentaenoic (EPA), and docosahexaenoic (DHA). Whereas certain fish are the primary source of EPA and DHA, ALA is derived primarily from plant sources, e.g., soybean, flaxseed, and walnut oils. The WHO/FAO (2003) recommendation on the consumption of fish is that “Regular fish consumption (1–2 servings per week) is protective against coronary heart disease and ischaemic stroke and is recommended. The serving should provide an equivalent of 200–500 mg of eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acid. People who are vegetarians are recommended to ensure adequate intake of plant sources of α-linolenic acid.”


Considering the recommendations and suggestions to increase seafood intake to promote cardiovascular health, and the somewhat conflicting messages to avoid certain fish, consumers and health professionals may feel confused regarding the healthfulness of consuming seafood. For this reason, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of the Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in particular the National Marine Fisheries Science Board, asked the Institute of Medicine to convene an ad hoc committee to (1) identify and prioritize the potential for adverse health effects from both naturally occurring and introduced toxicants in seafood, (2) assess evidence on availability of specific nutrients in seafood compared to other food sources, (3) determine the impact of modifying food choices to reduce intake of naturally occurring and introduced toxicants on nutrient intake and nutritional status within the US population, (4) develop a decision path, appropriate to the needs of US consumers, for selecting seafood to balance their choices to obtain

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