May 8, 2017
New approach makes it easier for women to choose the best fish for their health and their baby’s health
Minnesota Department of Health and HealthPartners launch new campaign
Equipping women who are or may become pregnant with the information they need to choose the right fish to eat -- that’s the goal of a new campaign launched today by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and HealthPartners.
The campaign highlights the health benefits of eating fish before and during pregnancy and the importance of choosing the right fish to reduce exposure to mercury or other contaminants. ChooseYourFish.org is a new website that helps people navigate the many fish choices and choose the best ones for women who are or may become pregnant.
“We want women and children to eat fish. The benefits outweigh risks if they choose fish low in mercury and other contaminants,” said Pat McCann, research scientist for MDH.
A brochure and ChooseYourFish.org were launched to reach more women and families and make it easier for them to follow MDH’s fish consumption guidelines. The website provides additional information about how to select and cook fish. Building on previous research and work by the Great Lakes Consortium for Fish Advisories, including Cornell University and Essentia Health, HealthPartners Institute gathered information through a series of focus groups and surveys to understand how messages about eating fish are best delivered and what additional context is needed. The goal was to design, write and develop materials that were clear and easy to understand. MDH originally approached HealthPartners because of its commitment to health education and regional reputation as a trusted, integrated health system. Both MDH and HealthPartners share a common priority of improving the health of Minnesotans.
“HealthPartners Institute reached out to women to find out the best and most accessible way to communicate this important information about eating fish,” said Dr. Tom Kottke, HealthPartners Medical Director for Well-Being. “We want to empower women with the information they need to make an important decision that will affect their health and the health of their families.”
Studies have shown that fish can provide important nutrients that help fetuses and babies develop, as long as they are low in mercury and other contaminants. The fatty acids, vitamins and minerals in fish are also important for adults.
Increased efforts to improve advice to women about eating fish started after a 2011 study by MDH showed that 10 percent of newborns tested in the North Shore – Arrowhead region had mercury above levels of concern in their blood.
The study results spurred a collaboration among Sawtooth Mountain Clinic, Grand Portage Health Service, North Shore Health, Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Trust Lands and MDH to reduce mercury exposure in women in the area and pilot an in-clinic screening for high mercury exposure. Nearly 500 women from Cook County, Grand Portage and the surrounding area participated in the Fish are Important to Superior Health (FISH) Project.
Participants provided information about which fish they ate and how often they ate fish. They also had a blood sample analyzed for mercury and healthy fatty acids. Three percent of participants had blood mercury levels above the level of concern. They received information about healthy diets that included which type (species) of fish to eat and how often they can eat fish. More information on the project is at FISH Project.
A new brochure is available in several different versions that each target a different community and/or region of the state, as well as a statewide version. The new website (ChooseYourFish.org) provides easy access to information on the web and on mobile devices. Both the brochures and website describe how often different types (species) of fish can be eaten to provide safe yet beneficial meals. The website also features simple recipes, videos and tips for selecting and cooking fish.
These efforts were supported in part through funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. A video – “New Information for Women to Choose the Best Fish" (YouTube) – highlights the key points of the new campaign.
MDH gives fish consumption recommendations for pregnant women, women who could become pregnant and children under age 15 (PDF), as well as for men, boys age 15 and over and women not planning to become pregnant (PDF). In general, men, boys 15 years and older and women who are not and will not become pregnant can eat fish about 3 times more often than the guidelines for pregnant women and younger children.