Challenge over fish oil benefits

EDUCATION bosses in the North have been challenged to prove that fish oils are helping children’s school performance after the latest suggestion of a positive impact.

EDUCATION bosses in the North have been challenged to prove that fish oils are helping children’s school performance after the latest suggestion of a positive impact.

Earlier this week, Toft Hill Primary School headteacher Richard Whitfield said that children given fish oil supplements in his County Durham school had not only concentrated better in class but also on the football field.

But his claims have reopened a row with a former headteacher in the county who wants a scientific study on the impact of fish oil.

Paul Thompson, who was headteacher at Cestria Primary School in Chester-le-Street for 18 years, said no claims should be made about improving children’s performance in schools until rigorous research is completed.

Many parents around the country have started giving their children fish oils after a number of much-publicised “trials” of the supplements in County Durham.

But Mr Thompson says claims that fish oils improve children’s concentration are worthless because no control group – with which any improvements could be measured – has been set up, while the study cannot be claimed to be unbiased because the supplements were supplied by the fish oil manufacturer Equazen.

He said: “Equazen continues to supply free supplements for these so-called ‘trials’ or ‘studies’ or ‘experiments’ and no doubt laughs all the way to the bank, due to increasing sales.

“Durham County Council and now Richard Whitfield claim that fish oil has improved their pupils’ performance, having no valid evidence upon which to make such claims.

“If they are all so confident that fish oil supplements are so beneficial to pupil academic performance, physical performance, concentration span and various other things, I return to the simple question that I asked and they fudged in the council chamber on February 7 and continued to fudge: “Why has Durham County Council, in conjunction with Equazen, not undertaken what appears to many to be an obvious and unique opportunity to carry out a scientifically controlled trial, with appropriate controls, of the possible effects of fish oil supplements on the academic performance of mainstream children in the county’s schools?”

Earlier this week, Mr Whitfield said his school had exceeded expectations in the Standard Assessment Tests (SATs).

The small school has also begun to dominate on the football pitch, clinching four trophies and winning every game last season.

Yesterday, Mr Whitfield said: “We just thought this was something that other headteachers might want to know about.

“We’ve definitely seen some benefit to our children, but we never claimed that it was all down to the fish oil supplements and we’ve never said that this was a proper clinical trial.”

A Durham County Council spokesman said it did not want to comment as the project was a school-based initiative that did not involve the council.

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