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John Simkin

Fish Oil for Pupils

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It is claimed that the government is considering giving regular doses of fish oil supplements to children to improve their behaviour and concentration in the classroom. The education secretary, Alan Johnson, has pointed out: "The Food Standards Agency is conducting a systematic review of research looking at the effect of nutrition and diet on performance and behaviour of children in schools. This includes investigating studies that have used Omega 3 and 6 supplements in schools."

(1) Do you think that fish oil supplements do make a difference?

(2) Is this an example of compulsory mass medication? If so, are you in favour of this development?

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This is a bit of a tricky one, isn't it. Swedish pupils used to regularly visited by the 'fluortant' (fluoride lady) who would make them all swill their mouths with a fluoride solution for three minutes. When this was stopped, dental health promptly deteriorated …

Good nutrition, school dinners, etc, etc, seem to result in very healthy children here too. When we get children's clothes from England, we have to ask the family to buy the size for the *next* year, since our 'Swedish' children are just that much bigger than their English equivalents.

I wonder if fish oil is the right thing to be distributing, though. Free school milk, anyone?

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On the advice of my very good GP I have been taking fish oil capsules for several years and I do believe they have made a difference to my overall well-being. She recommended them for a variety of benefits including cholesterol, high blood pressure, stress and joint protection. A friend who has been a geriatric nurse for many years tells me that they have given them to all their residents for several years now.

Here in Tasmania we have a natural shortage of iodine and for many years all school children were given iodine tablets, until it started to be put compulsorily into bread and salt. I can't see much difference when it seems logical that human brains developed over centuries of a diet which included lots of omega 3 from oily fish and that many people nowadays have a shortage of it in their diet and that may well be one cause of the apparent increase in behaviour disorders. No different from school milk to supplement the missing calcium etc and no different really from "breakfast programs".

I think it's worth a try - a more sensible trial than many that are conducted in our society. If it works, jolly good and think of all the money and stress saved as a result, if it doesn't, certainly no harm done.

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Perhaps we would all want students to have the best diet imaginable. Thus we might 'buy into' the idea of providing students Omega 3 or 6 etc at school.

I offer the following thoughts for further deliberation.

If then someone came up with the idea the Omega 3 (or whatever) works best with (say) some Glaxo product would we willingly go down that route promoting Glaxo's profits at state expense.

If it is the case (and it seems to be) that fish oil or derivatives is beneficial it would be rather better to include that information in educational material so that students and parents made sure it was part of the diet. This would leave the solution to individual responsibility.

Imagine rather than registration we had tablet moments where we got the kids into a suitable state for learning by chemical means and gave them antidotes at the end of the day to return them to normal people.

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As I said earlier, for many years here children were given iodine tablets as a safeguard against goiter. It caused none of the issues you've raised. I'm old enough to remember being issued with concentrated orange juice and cod liver oil after the war as a safeguard against poor nutrition. I guess in both cases the govt could have "educated" parents instead but I doubt it would have had the same effect. I think I probably have them to thank for my very strong bones and good teeth even in late middle age and in neither case was there ever any issues about brands or makes or commercial companies that I recall. I think it's just a bit sad that we've reached a point where we have to always think in terms of possible commercial competition and individual "freedoms".

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