According to a new study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, low-income adults eat significantly less seafood rich in omega 3, a fatty acid with proven health benefits, than those with high incomes. The study also revealed large differences in seafood consumption by race and ethnicity. The Center is based at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Nearly 90% of Americans don’t eat seafood twice a week, as recommended by the US Dietary Guidelines. Seafood, the most expensive protein, is beyond many people’s budgets. Understanding consumption patterns by income, race and ethnicity, as well as seafood species, price and source, could help efforts to promote greater and smarter seafood consumption.
The researchers found a strong association between income and the price of seafood; low-income people ate 18% less seafood each week than high-income people. The study also found that seafood rich in long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids – commonly known as omega 3s – accounted for 18% of all seafood in the diets of low-income people, 28% for those with middle incomes and 33% for those with high incomes. Seafood rich in omega 3, such as salmon, also cost more at retail than species low in omega 3.
Across all racial and ethnic groups, low- and middle-income Asians were the only groups on average to eat the recommended amounts of seafood; among high-income Asians, consumption fell. However, seafood consumption by other races and ethnicities increased sharply for high income groups. Among these groups, only the diets of higher-income non-Hispanic black people come close to the recommended amounts.
The study was published online June 13 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
“While seafood is nutritious, its higher cost is a barrier for low-income Americans,” says David Love, PhD, lead study author and senior fellow at the Center for a Livable Future. “Eating seafood twice a week can be difficult on a tight budget, but it can be done, for example, by buying frozen or canned seafood instead of fresh.”
Nearly 3,000 species are classified as seafood. Less expensive species with favorable nutrient profiles – those containing omega 3s, vitamins and minerals – include mackerel, herring, mussels, octopus and eel. Of these five species, only mussels are consumed with some frequency, accounting for 2% of seafood consumed by low-income adults and 1% by high-income adults. The researchers note that many Americans eat only a limited range of species including mostly shrimp, salmon, canned tuna, tilapia and cod.
To perform the analysis, the researchers looked at dietary data from the National Health and Nutrition Study (NHANES). The dataset covered the years 2011 to 2018 and included information on 17,559 people, of whom 3,285 had consumed seafood. The dataset categorized four groups of adults: Hispanic, non-Hispanic white, black non-Hispanic and non-Hispanic Asian. NHANES data was also used to analyze seafood consumption by species, including species high in omega-3 fatty acids.
Additionally, the researchers used data from NielsenIQ to estimate retail prices (using an average of prices from 2017 to 2019) by type of seafood, and data from the Foods and Nutrients Database for dietary studies to assess the nutritional values of seafood in relation to price. Researchers used trade data to determine seafood production methods and habitat.
Researchers have found that Americans eat a mix of farmed and wild-caught seafood, and the majority comes from the ocean. Farmed fish may provide different nutrient levels than wild-caught fish because their diets include soybean meal and oil and other crops, instead of or in addition to natural diets of the species. The authors note that choices about what parts of a fish to eat and how seafood is prepared — fried or baked — also have important health implications.
“Further research is needed to explore the cultural differences that exist within racial and ethnic groups as defined by the NHANES dataset,” says lead author Martin Bloem, MD, director of the Center for a Livable Future and Robert S. Lawrence, professor of environment. Health in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Environmental Health and Engineering “Culture plays a critical role in shaping our individual food choices, so future recommendations should consider and reflect these differences.”
“Affordability Influences the Nutritional Quality of Seafood Consumption Among Income and Racial/Ethnic Groups in the United States,” was co-authored by David C. Love, Andrew L. Thorne-Lyman, Zach Conrad , Jessica A. Gephart, Frank Asche, Dakoury Godo-Solo, Acree McDowell, Elizabeth M. Nussbaumer, and Martin W. Bloem.
The study was supported by the United States Department of Agriculture through an INFEWS grant [2018-67003-27408]Grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NA21OAR4170093]and a National Institute of Food and Agriculture Hatch project . Additional support was provided by the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation and Florida Sea Grant.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
The title of the article
Affordability Influences the Nutritional Quality of Seafood Consumption Among Income and Race/Ethnic Groups in the United States
Publication date of articles
June 13, 2022
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