An overwhelming majority of children do not eat enough fish, placing them at risk of heart disease, asthma, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and retarded brain development, new research says.
Associate Professor Barbara Meyer, from the University of Wollongong's School of Health Sciences, said intakes of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids - found mostly in fish - were ''desperately low'' among Australian children.
Her paper, Long Chain Omega-3 Intakes of Australian Children, which is being submitted for publication in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that three-year-olds consumed an average of only 47 milligrams of long-chain omega-3s, while four-to-eight year-olds had just 55 milligrams.
Both figures are less than one-tenth of the National Heart Foundation's recommended guidelines of 500 milligrams.
''Only about 6 per cent of our children are meeting those suggested dietary targeted intakes,'' she said.
Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines are the richest sources of long-chain omega-3s.
Professor Meyer said only one child in 10 ate fish, which is the richest source of omega-3s.
Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines are the richest sources of long-chain omega-3s, while organ meats such as brains and bone marrow, lean red meat and eggs were other sources.
Foods fortified with omega-3s, such as eggs, milk, yoghurt and bread, as well as fish-oil supplements, are other sources.
Professor Meyer said she and colleague Nithin Kolanu based their research - funded by the Omega-3 Centre in Melbourne, which in turn is funded by nutrition, fishing and meat companies - on last year's Australian National Children's Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey carried out by the Federal Government.
''Intakes of omega-3 have not increased in that time,'' Professor Meyer said. ''Children are not increasing their consumption of fish and seafood in any way, which is a bit disheartening.
''There's a lot of enriched foods on the market with omega-3s but [consumption of those products] is not very high either. Only about 8 per cent of children are taking those supplements for omega-3s.''
Professor Meyer said expectant mothers should also ensure they ate plenty of fish, but should avoid those high in mercury.
A study published in 2006 in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed the benefits of eating fish outweighed the potential risks for pregnant women.
''It's so vital in the last trimester of pregnancy because that's when the growing foetus accrues all the brain matter. The first two years of an infant's life is also important because the brain is still growing.''
The National Heart Foundation of Australia recommends everyone consume about 500 milligrams a day, or two to three serves of oily fish a week, fish oil capsules or liquid and food and drinks enriched with marine n-3 PUFA.
Those with coronary heart disease should have 1000 milligrams a day while people with elevated triglycerides should eat about 4000 milligrams a day.