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Environment

Weighing Seafood's benefits, risks

October 23, 2006 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 84, ISSUE 43

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Credit: iStockphoto
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Credit: iStockphoto

Consumers should eat fish twice a week, but children and women of childbearing age should avoid certain varieties, says a report from the Institute of Medicine. The report states that the fragmented information consumers receive about the benefits and risks of eating fish and shellfish can result in misperceptions, and it calls for federal agencies to partner with state, local, and private groups to create new educational tools. The panel that wrote the report found that much of the evidence for health benefits or hazards from seafood is preliminary or insufficient. It decided, however, that eating fish and shellfish may reduce people's overall risk for developing heart disease. It also concluded that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding can safely eat two 3-oz servings of most fish each week but should avoid swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish because these fish have higher mercury levels than other fish. Similar guidelines were offered for children. Arnold Schecter, a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center, says the report is deficient because it fails to consider the health effects of increasing concentrations of polybrominated diphenyl ether flame-retardant chemicals found in both fish and humans.

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