When Mauritian children and youth took omega-3 supplements, their parents’ psychopathological ratings improved and the parents also felt their children were behaving better, according to a study led by University of Pennsylvania researchers and published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. The improvements lasted six months after the treatment stopped even though measurements of the childrens’ own antisocial behavior improvements were not as robust. Yet placebo effects did not wholly explain the results, wrote the researchers.
In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, 200 children aged 8–16 years were divided into groups that drank a daily fruit drink, or a fruit drink supplemented with 1 gram of omega-3. Children and parents then reported on their own feelings and behaviors and the parents also reported on their childrens’ behaviors on several types of measurement scales. The parents guessed with 97% accuracy when their children were taking omega-3 and reported significant improvements in their children’s behaviors.
“In conclusion, this RCT shows that 6 months of omega-3 supplementation in fruit juice drink form results in a 42–68% reduction in parent-reported externalizing and internalizing behavior problems in community-residing children and adolescents, with improvement continuing 6 months after treatment cessation,” wrote the researchers. Yet the children themselves reported fewer significant changes in their own behaviors, and the researchers also did not detect as many. So the researchers then measured the significance of these differences.
“Improvement in parental behavior accounted for 60.9% of the [measured] improvement in child antisocial behavior,” they concluded. “[F]rom a clinical perspective the very large majority of clinic referrals for behavioral problems are from parents, not children. Consequently, the current findings for parental reports may have clinical relevance.”
Reduction in behavior problems with omega-3 supplementation in children aged 8–16 years: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, stratified, parallel-group trial (Raine, Adrian et al. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Published online August 22, 2014. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12314)
weird, the parents reported the children behaved better when having a suppliment, though they did not know if the child had the supplement or not, they had to guess and did so accurately. The children said it made little difference and the researchers sort of agreed.
So a supplement to the children. when no one knows if the children have the suppliment or not, caused the parents to behave better.
Or that is how I read it.
I understand it exactly like you. It’s a very interesting finding and I wonder how it can be explained.
Maybe there’s something that changes in the kids’ behaviour that the study cannot assess yet it’s noticed consciously or not by the parents?
He concludes that “improvement in parental behavior accounted for 60.9%” of the improvements in the children’s behavior. So thinking that their child was taking supplements to improve behavior impelled the PARENTS to do a better job, but they attributed the benefits to the omega-3 supplements.
Pretty fascinating. I guess it suggests to me that parental attitude toward a child is the most important variable in the child’s behavior, which is something I’ve always believed to be the case. Doesn’t fit very well with the bio-centric view of “mental health problems,” though, does it?
Yeah, I’m thinking that in the interest of science, the parents paid more attention to their child.
I also think it’s a weak study. Even though it was double blind, the conclusion was an observation.
“Findings provide initial evidence that omega-3 supplementation can produce sustained reductions in externalizing and internalizing behavior problems. Results are the first to report improvements in caregiver behavior, and to establish this improvement as a part-mechanism for the efficacy of omega-3.”
I don’t think they “established” anything.
Yeah – it’s a weak study. What it’s claiming is pretty plausible; I’m sure many of us can point anecdotally to parents for whom “their kids'” problems are really the parents’ problems. But this doesn’t really prove it.