Researchers from the University of Wollongong (UOW) have partnered with Corrective Services NSW (CSNSW) to undertake a pilot study into whether good nutrition, and in particular omega-3 fats, have a positive impact on behaviour.
More than 130 participants at the South Coast Correctional Centre in Nowra have volunteered to take part in the ‘Omega Man’ study, which began in July.
CSNSW Assistant Commissioner of Strategic Policy and Planning Luke Grant said; “the interface between biology and human behavior is an emerging area of interest for corrections as we pursue our goal to reduce reoffending.
“This study will help us understand whether omega-3 fats and multivitamin supplements are associated with a reduction in antisocial behaviour and particularly in displays of aggressive and violent incidents. The outcomes will contribute towards growing literature around the influence of diet on behaviour, which is of value to Corrective Services NSW,” Mr Grant said.
The research will see participants taking omega-3 fats and multivitamin and mineral supplements (or the placebo treatment) until November 2013, followed by blood and psychological tests, with the first data expected to be available in early 2014.
Nutrition expert and leader of the project, Associate Professor Barbara Meyer, said the study builds on a UK study conducted by Dr Bernard Gesch, from the University of Oxford. It found that supplementing the diets of young offenders at a maximum security institution in Buckinghamshire cut offences by up to 35 per cent.
Dr Gesch is now a collaborator on the UOW-led project, which also involves researchers from the University of South Australia and the University of Sydney.
Professor Meyer, who is Director of UOW’s Metabolic Research Centre and President of the Nutrition Society of Australia, said recent reports in the media that fish oil supplements increase prostate cancer risk “cause unnecessary fear in the public.”
“The truth is, the Australian diet is highly deficient in the right kind of omega-3 oils and the health consequences of that have been shown to be very negative. More and more studies are demonstrating further health benefits than previously perceived, extending from heart health, tissue health and now mental health,” she said.
In this truly multidisciplinary project, sustainable seafood expert Dr Pia Winberg, Director of the Shoalhaven Marine and Freshwater Centre, has teamed up with Professor Meyer.
“We both recognised that the source and the benefits of omega-3 oils needed to be aligned for the sake of human health and sustainable ocean production,” Dr Winberg said.
After the pilot study, Dr Winberg and Professor Meyer aim to develop a multi-centre trial across Australia.
“Such a study is essential as only a larger study can confirm the benefits of diet supplements across different contexts, cultures and environments,” Professor Meyer said.