Pupils better behaved - due to fish oil

PUBLISHED: 10:00 13 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:00 22 October 2010


New evidence of the benefits of fish oil supplements in improving children's behaviour has emerged as part of a ground-breaking trial at a Norfolk school.

New evidence of the benefits of fish oil supplements in improving children's behaviour has emerged as part of a ground-breaking trial at a Norfolk school.

A group of 38 boys at Eaton Hall special school in Norwich, with a range of behavioural conditions including autism, Asperger syndrome and dyslexia, have been taking the eye q omega 3 fish oil supplement since January.

While the final statistical results are to be compiled at the end of the month, early anecdotal signs suggest that the fish oil has helped make a difference.

The findings come amid suggestions that ministers would like all primary school pupils to be given the fish oil supplement as part of a twin-track approach to improve their concentration levels and diet.

The Food Standards Agency is reportedly being asked to provide a definitive verdict on the success of such supplements.

Giving fish oil to youngsters would herald a throwback to post-war Britain when cod liver oil was given free to young children, pregnant women and nursing mothers.

Last night, Valerie Moore, headteacher at Eaton Hall, said parents and staff had seen an improvement in behaviour since the trial started.

“What we have noticed and talked about in senior staff meetings is that in our year 11 students we haven't had anywhere near the behavioural problems we have had in the past,” she said. “It could be that they are a very good cohort of children, but one parent said she had noticed a marked difference in her son's behaviour at home since Christmas.”

While there are several fish oil trials taking place at schools across the country, the Eaton Hall project is the first to involve youngsters with special needs.

Drugs such as Ritalin, traditionally prescribed to those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), often have side-effects such as loss of appetite and insomnia. And a key part of the trial is to see if the fish oils could reduce those symptoms and pave the way for some youngsters to return to mainstream education.

A positive result could be good news for thousands of families seeking help to tackle the challenges presented by children's behavioural problems.

Miss Moore said the fish oil trial complemented a range of initiatives introduced by the school in the past couple of years to help improve the behaviour and concentration of pupils.

These included ensuring youngsters had a plentiful supply of fresh water during the day and encouraging them to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables.

“You can't look at the fish oils in isolation,” she added. “But even if it only works for two or three children it has been worthwhile. Anything that can help a child with their behaviour has got to be worthwhile. It's much better than giving children chemicals like Ritalin. I would much rather see natural products used.”

Despite the promising signs of the Eaton Hall trial, education chiefs in Norfolk believe it is too early to say if all youngsters should be given fish oil until the final results had been analysed.

The scheme is not a clinical trial, which means that scientists will not be able to take into account any placebo effect.

Lisa Christensen, the county council's director of children's services, said: “The study in Norfolk will help feed into the national debate on this issue. We're keen to see the final results of the trial, and what the impact has been on students.”

Hannah Carter, spokesman for Equazen, manufacturer of the eye q supplement which is supplying the fish oil for the Eaton Hall scheme, said school staff would compile their detailed findings at the end of the trial.

But she said that some staff had already gathered some “amazing records” of improved behaviour.

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