OBJECTIVE: To assess adolescents' knowledge about n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and their dietary intake of these important nutrients.

METHODS: A questionnaire consisting of 12 questions assessing the knowledge and intake of n-3 PUFA and of a 24-h dietary recall was administered to 1117 ninth-grade adolescents (52% girls and 48% boys) attending five public schools. The adolescents were subsequently provided with verbal and written information on the health benefits, requirements, and dietary sources of n-3 PUFA. Dietary recalls were analyzed for energy and n-3 PUFA intake. Descriptive statistics, Student's t-tests, Chi-square analysis, and multiple regression analysis were used to assess adolescents' knowledge about n-3 PUFA as well as to examine relationships of independent variables with n-3 PUFA intake.

RESULTS: Most adolescents (89%) believed that eating fish, a main source of very long chain (VLC) n-3 PUFA, is healthy and may prevent heart disease (59%), but only a few knew about n-3 PUFA's role in alleviating inflammation (29%) and its potential for cancer prevention (25%). Many were aware of marine sources of n-3 PUFA, such as salmon (67%), tuna (46%), mackerel (30%), and herring (26%), but only 36% knew about adequate intake of VLC n-3 PUFA. The main source of n-3 PUFA information was parents (58%), whereas only 21% of adolescents reported that their care providers had discussed health benefits of n-3 PUFA with them. About one-third of adolescents consumed fish at least once a week, and 29% consumed fish once a month. Dislike (22% of participants) and allergy (3%) were the main reasons for rarely (< or = 3 times/year; 18%) or never (17%) consuming fish. Only one adolescent reported daily consumption of a fish concentrate supplement. Daily consumption of linolenic acid was higher in boys (0.38 +/- 0.02 g) than in girls (0.31 +/- 0.01 g; p =.002). Total intake of n-3 PUFA represented only 30% of the presently available (Canadian) recommended daily allowance (CRDA) for 14- to 15-year-old boys (1.4 g/day) and 29% of the CRDA for 14- to 15-year-old girls (1.2 g/day).

CONCLUSIONS: Adolescents are aware of some of the health benefits of n-3 PUFA but lack concrete information about dietary requirements of n-3 PUFA and about n-3 PUFA content of various dietary sources.