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New Guidelines On Fish Consumption For Females Of Childbearing Age, Young Children

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Alaska health officials on Monday released new guidelines on the amount of local fish women and girls of child bearing age, and young children should consume, the Anchorage Daily News reports. According to the recommendations, these groups can eat salmon from local waters in unlimited amounts without risking overexposure to mercury but should limit consumption of large halibut, shark, large lingcod, yellow eye rockfish and spiny dogfish because of mercury levels found in the fish.

The state previously said that females of childbearing age and young children could eat an unlimited amount of local fish but changed its guidelines because of mercury levels reported this year in certain fish that never had been tested and in larger specimens of previously tested fish, according to the Daily News.The state's fish tissue testing program, which began in 2001, shows that most of Alaska's five species of salmon and pollock contain safe levels of mercury, based on the state's health standards. According to the Daily News, the state has tested the hair of 359pregnant women for mercury since 2002 and has extended the studies to all females ages 15 to 45. The tests found that hair mercury levels in all of the women were well below 14 parts per million, which the World Health Organization says can cause harm to the health of a fetus.

Differing Guidelines

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Alaska's guidelines on fish consumption differ from FDA and Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, the Daily News reports (Bluemink, Anchorage Daily News,10/17). FDA and EPA in 2005 issued warnings that advise young children,pregnant women, nursing women and women of childbearing age to avoid consuming swordfish, king mackerel, shark and tile fish because of high mercury levels. The warnings also recommend that those groups eat no more than 12 ounces of fish weekly and no more than six ounces of canned albacore tuna weekly (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report,10/11). Alaska officials said that fish from local waters are less contaminated than fish from other areas and may be consumed in greater amounts. According to the Daily News, the state on Monday also unveiled a "fish diet calculator" to help families gauge how much of the riskier fish they may consume weekly without health risk.

New York Times Examines Controversy Over National Guidelines

In related news, New York Times on Wednesday examined the controversy over recent recommendations by the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition that pregnant and breast-feeding women should consume at least 12ounces of fish and seafood per week for optimal brain development of fetuses. Some members of the coalition declined to endorse the guidelines, and some members criticized the coalition for accepting a$60,000 grant from the National Fisheries Institute, a fishing industry trade association, to help fund the research, the Times reports.

Kathryn Mahaffey, a senior scientist for EPA, said the coalition's recommendations have created an "artificial controversy" and have"undermine[d] what regulatory agencies have to say." Judy Meehan,executive director of the coalition, said, "We receive money for an educational message, and we stand behind that message," adding, "We saw an important health message that is a priority and thought the latests cience should be included." John Connelly, president of NFI, said the institute is "proud to have been able to support a continuing discussion of the importance of eating seafood as part of healthy diet during pregnancy" (Burros, New York Times, 10/17).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.