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Eur J Clin Nutr. 2015 Feb;69(2):167-72. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2014.210. Epub 2014 Oct 1.

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is inversely related to development of adiposity in school-age children.

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Department of Population Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, Boston, MA, USA.
Department of Epidemiology, University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor, MI, USA.
Fundación para Investigación en Nutrición y Salud, FINUSAD, Bogotá, Colombia.



Studies in adults indicate that dietary polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) composition may play a role in development of adiposity. Because adipocyte quantity is established between late childhood and early adolescence, understanding the impact of PUFAs on weight gain during the school-age years is crucial to developing effective interventions.


We quantified N-3 and N-6 PUFAs in serum samples of 668 Colombian schoolchildren aged 5-12 years at the time of recruitment into a cohort study, using gas-liquid chromatography. Serum concentrations of N-3 (alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid, docosahexaenoic acid) and N-6 PUFAs (linoleic acid, gamma-linolenic acid, dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid, arachidonic acid) were determined as percentage total fatty acids. Children's anthropometry was measured annually for a median of 30 months. We used mixed-effects models with restricted cubic splines to construct population body mass index-for-age z-score (BAZ) growth curves for age- and sex-specific quartiles of each PUFA.


N-3 ALA was inversely related to BAZ gain after adjustment for sex, baseline age and weight status, as well as household socioeconomic level. Estimated BAZ change between 6 and 14 years among children in the highest quartile of ALA compared with those in the lowest quartile was 0.45 (95% confidence interval: 0.07, 0.83) lower (P-trend=0.006).


N-3 ALA may be protective against weight gain in school-age children. Whether improvement in PUFA status reduces adiposity in pediatric populations deserves evaluation in randomized trials.

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