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Keywords:

  • Omega-3;
  • externalizing;
  • internalizing;
  • aggression;
  • randomized trial

Background

While limited evidence suggests that omega-3 supplementation may reduce antisocial behavior in children, studies have not reported on posttreatment follow-up and most treatment periods have been of short duration. This study tests the hypothesis that omega-3 supplementation over 6 months will reduce behavior problems in children both at the end of treatment and at 6 months post treatment.

Methods

In this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, stratified, parallel-group trial, a community sample of 8–16 year old children were randomized into a treatment group (N = 100) and a placebo-control group (N = 100). The supplementation consisted of a fruit drink containing 1 g/day of omega-3 or a placebo consisting of the same fruit drink without omega-3. Participants, caregivers, and research assistants were blinded to group assignment. The primary outcome measures of externalizing and internalizing behavior problems were reported by both caregivers and their children in a laboratory setting at 0 months (baseline), 6 months (end of treatment) and 12 months (6 months post treatment), together with the secondary outcome measures of parental antisocial behavior. Data were analyzed on an intention-to-treat basis including all participants. Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov: http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02016079?term=mauritius&rank=2

Results

Significant group × time interactions were observed with the treatment group showing long-term improvements in child behavior problems. The average posttreatment effect size was d = −.59. Effects were documented for parent reports, but with the exception of proactive and reactive aggression, child-report data were nonsignificant. Parents whose children took omega-3 showed significant posttreatment reductions in their own antisocial and aggressive behavior. This improvement in caregiver behavior partly mediated the improvements observed in child behavior.

Conclusions

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.