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During the preschool years, obesigenic eating habits are formed which are strongly associated with risk of developing chronic diseases later in life particularly cardiovascular disease. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) omega-3 fatty acid is a polyunsaturated fat with known benefits for heart health, brain cell structure, and retinal development. Current intakes of DHA are below recommended levels. United States (US) Midwestern children may be particularly at risk for suboptimal intakes of DHA. However, foods fortified with life’sDHATM, a product of Martek Biosciences and omega-3 eggs may provide culturally acceptable sources of DHA to Midwestern children.
Very little is known about the consumption and awareness of DHA omega-3 of US Midwestern low socio-economic preschool children and their parents or preschoolers’ willingness to try and prefer foods rich in DHA. Therefore, methodology was developed including the Eating Habits of Preschool Children questionnaire and a taste test experiment to fill this knowledge gap.
Children 3-5 years enrolled in a Midwestern Head Start/Early Childhood Toddler Educare (ExCITE) program were recruited for this study. Parents were asked to complete two questionnaires, one on their children’s and their familiarity and awareness of omega-3 foods and one on familial and child neophobia. The children participated in a taste test experiment in which their willingness to try 14 foods rich in DHA as well as their preference for these foods were recorded. T-tests and McNemar nonparametric tests as well as a correlation were conducted.
Forty-seven children and their parents participated. Of the fish listed, only tuna was classified as a typical food consumed. Awareness and perceived knowledge of omega-3 in general was more frequent than that of DHA. Children were willing to try most foods but least likely to try mackerel and sardines (P < .05). Children preferred fortified foods over fish and typical foods over novel foods (P < .05). Novel fish was the least palatable to the children. Children with reported greater food neophobia were less likely to try new foods offered (P < .05). DHA fortified foods typical of the Midwestern diet may be the most likely way to get US Midwestern children to consume adequate amounts of DHA for chronic disease prevention.