Olivebank & Omega3

Evaluation of an initiative to provide omega-3 rich snacks to preschool children at Olivebank Nursery in Musselburgh

(Article provided by Dr Jane Mackenzie from QMU)

 Senior researchers at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh have recently worked with nursery children in East Lothian to improve their diets.

The University’s experts in nutrition collaborated with Olivebank Nursery in Musselburgh to encourage children to eat more oily fish as part of a balanced diet.  This follows directly on from some preliminary work carried out by the staff at Greengables Nursery in Craigmillar, Edinburgh.

The work was carried out by Nutrition Graduate, Elina Scheers Andersson, and was supported by a grant from the Organix Foundation, a charity which funds research projects that help develop understanding of the links between food quality and children’s health.

Dr Sandra Drummond, Senior Lecturer in Nutrition and Dr Jane McKenzie, Senior Lecturer in Biochemistry and Metabolism are aware that nursery aged children in Scotland have very low intakes of oily fish – the key dietary source of Omega 3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are essential for normal child development during this critical age.

Dr Drummond explained: “As a nation, the Scots are not consuming the recommended intake of oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and fresh tuna, and young children’s intakes are particularly low. Optimising intake of Omega 3 fats will help children to reach their full potential and improve their long term health.”

As it is understood that very few children are familiar with oily fish, the research team aimed to encourage children to become more aware of fish – where it comes from, what it tastes like, and how they can incorporate fishy snacks into their every day diet.

Nursery staff worked closely with the research team to promote a range of fun and interesting activities. A visit to the local fishmonger introduced children to different types of fish. There were also opportunities for hands on food preparation sessions such as making tasty snacks from fish they’d bought from the shop.  The snacks, including smoked mackerel pâté, salmon fish fingers, tuna meatballs and smoked salmon and spinach tartlets, were then offered to the children at the nursery in place of the regular snacks.

The majority of children found the range of omega-3 rich snacks as enjoyable and acceptable as the regular snacks. Substituting some of the regular snacks with those made with oily fish increased the intake of valuable omega-3 fatty acids significantly. The impact of this initiative on the children’s overall dietary intake requires further evaluation, however the results from this study indicate that such an initiative can be successful within a similar vulnerable population.

Dr Drummond concluded:” This research can impact positively in many ways.  Taste preferences are learned at an early age. If children are given the opportunity to develop a liking for oily fish at a young age, this preference can persist throughout their life. By developing an awareness and liking for oily fish, young children may be able to influence the food choice of the whole family.”

Professor Petra Wend, Principal of Queen Margaret University, said: ”This project is an excellent example of the relevance of Queen Margaret University research work and ensures that academic knowledge is being applied to a real life community setting. The work fits well with Queen Margaret’s philosophy of improving quality of life and allows us to have a positive impact on the health of our younger members of society.”