Public Health Nutrition

Monitoring and surveillance

The global availability of n-3 fatty acids

Stefka Petrovaa1, Plamen Dimitrova1, Walter C Willetta2 and Hannia Camposa2 c1

a1 National Center for Public Health Protection, Sofia, Bulgaria

a2 Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard University, Room 201, 665 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA


Objectives To assess the validity of FAO data on the availability of fish and vegetable oils as an indicator of national n-3 fatty acid (FA) intake and to estimate the worldwide population living in countries with low n-3 FA intake.

Design Levels of the essential FA α-linolenic acid (ALA) and DHA, measured by GC in adipose tissue from participants in the present study and from published studies in eleven other countries, were used to validate ALA and fish availability estimated from FAO food balance sheets. On the basis of the validated FAO data for ALA and fish availability, we estimated the global prevalence of low n-3 FA availability.

Setting Rural and urban areas of Bulgaria.

Subjects Fifty men and fifty-eight women.

Results Adipose tissue ALA and DHA levels (0·34 % and 0·11 % of total FA, respectively) in Bulgaria were lower than those of the eleven other countries with available data. A strong positive correlation was found between adipose tissue DHA and fish availability (r = 0·88) and between adipose tissue ALA and ALA availability (r = 0·92). Approximately half of the world's population lived in middle- and low-income countries with limited access to n-3 FA (fish < 400 g/week and ALA < 4 % of total vegetable oils), with the largest proportion being in South-East Asia (53·6 %), followed by Africa (27·1 %) and Eastern Europe (8·5 %). Of this half, 33 % lived in countries such as Bulgaria where n-3 FA was almost unavailable (fish < 200 g/week and ALA < 2 % of total vegetable oils).

Conclusions Very low availability of n-3 FA is extensive worldwide.

(Received April 13 2010)

(Accepted November 23 2010)

(Online publication March 31 2011)


c1 Corresponding author: Email