This study aims to examine the association of whole blood n-3 and n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) with insulin resistance (IR) in children. Whole blood fatty acids were measured in 705 children aged 2–9 years of the European IDEFICS/I.Family cohort using gas chromatography in units of weight percentage of all detected fatty acids (%wt/wt). IR was determined by the Homeostasis Model Assessment for IR (HOMA). Mixed effect models were used to assess the associations between selected baseline PUFA and HOMA z-scores at baseline and after 2- and 6-year follow-ups using models with basic and additional confounder adjustment as well as stratified by sex and weight status. In the basic model, α-linolenic (β = 1.46 SD/%wt/wt, p = 0.006) and eicosapentaenoic acid (β = 1.17 SD/%wt/wt, p = 0.001) were positively associated with baseline HOMA z-score. In the stratified analyses, α-linolenic acid was positively associated with HOMA z-score in girls only (β = 1.98 SD/%wt/wt, p = 0.006) and arachidonic acid was inversely associated with baseline HOMA in thin/normal-weight children (β = − 0.13 SD/%wt/wt, p = 0.0063). In the fully adjusted model, no statistically significant associations were seen.
Conclusions: Our overall results do not indicate a protective role of higher blood n-3 PUFA or an adverse role of higher blood arachidonic acid proportion on the risk of IR.
What is Known:|
•Intervention studies reported a beneficial effect of n-3 PUFA supplementation on insulin resistance compared with placebo while observational studies in cildren are inconclusive.
•Studies have shown a positive association of n-6 arachidonic acid and insulin resistance indicating an adverse role of arachidonic acid.
What is New:|
•Cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses based on circulating blood fatty acid concentrations in a large cohort of European children and adolescents.
•Overall results do not support a protective role of n-3 PUFA or an adverse role of arachidonic acid in insulin resistance.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Body mass index
Homeostasis Model Assessment for insulin resistance
Identification and prevention of dietary- and lifestyle-induced health effects in children and adolescents
International Standard Classification of Education
Polyunsaturated fatty acids
Liang Y, Hou D, Zhao X, Wang L, Hu Y, Liu J, Cheng H, Yang P, Shan X, Yan Y, Cruickshank JK, Mi J (2015) Childhood obesity affects adult metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Endocrine. 50(1):87–92
Aldamiz-Echevarria L, Prieto JA, Andrade F, Elorz J, Sanjurjo P, Rodriguez SJ (2007) Arachidonic acid content in adipose tissue is associated with insulin resistance in healthy children. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 44(1):77–83
Yanagisawa N, Shimada K, Miyazaki T, Kume A, Kitamura Y, Ichikawa R, Ohmura H, Kiyanagi T, Hiki M, Fukao K, Sumiyoshi K, Hirose K, Matsumori R, Takizawa H, Fujii K, Mokuno H, Inoue N, Daida H (2010) Polyunsaturated fatty acid levels of serum and red blood cells in apparently healthy Japanese subjects living in an urban area. J Atheroscler Thromb 17(3):285–294
Torres-Castillo N, Silva-Gomez JA, Campos-Perez W et al (2018) High dietary omega-6:omega-3 PUFA ratio is positively associated with excessive adiposity and waist circumference. Obes Facts 11(4):344–353
Guerendiain M, Montes R, Lopez-Belmonte G et al (2018) Changes in plasma fatty acid composition are associated with improvements in obesity and related metabolic disorders: a therapeutic approach to overweight adolescents. Clin Nutr (Edinburgh, Scotland) 37(1):149–156
Hutchins AM, Brown BD, Cunnane SC, Domitrovich SG, Adams ER, Bobowiec CE (2013) Daily flaxseed consumption improves glycemic control in obese men and women with pre-diabetes: a randomized study. Nutr Res (New York, NY) 33(5):367–375
Mohammadi E, Rafraf M, Farzadi L, Asghari-Jafarabadi M, Sabour S (2012) Effects of omega-3 fatty acids supplementation on serum adiponectin levels and some metabolic risk factors in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 21(4):511–518
Sanchez Meza K, Tene Perez CE, Sanchez Ramirez CA, Muniz Valencia R, Del Toro Equihua M (2014) Levels of eicosapentaenoic acid in obese schoolchildren with and without insulin resistance. Nutr Hosp 31(3):1102–1108
Karlsson M, Marild S, Brandberg J, Lonn L, Friberg P, Strandvik B (2006) Serum phospholipid fatty acids, adipose tissue, and metabolic markers in obese adolescents. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md) 14(11):1931–1939
Damsgaard CT, Eidner MB, Stark KD, Hjorth MF, Sjödin A, Andersen MR, Andersen R, Tetens I, Astrup A, Michaelsen KF, Lauritzen L (2014) Eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid in whole blood are differentially and sex-specifically associated with cardiometabolic risk markers in 8-11-year-old Danish children. PLoS One 9(10):e109368
Burrows T, Collins CE, Garg ML (2011) Omega-3 index, obesity and insulin resistance in children. Int J Pediatr Obes 6(2–2):e532–e539
Saito E, Okada T, Abe Y, Kuromori Y, Miyashita M, Iwata F, Hara M, Ayusawa M, Mugishima H, Kitamura Y (2011) Docosahexaenoic acid content in plasma phospholipids and desaturase indices in obese children. J Atheroscler Thromb 18(4):345–350
Klein-Platat C, Drai J, Oujaa M, Schlienger JL, Simon C (2005) Plasma fatty acid composition is associated with the metabolic syndrome and low-grade inflammation in overweight adolescents. Am J Clin Nutr 82(6):1178–1184
Muramatsu T, Yatsuya H, Toyoshima H, Sasaki S, Li Y, Otsuka R, Wada K, Hotta Y, Mitsuhashi H, Matsushita K, Murohara T, Tamakoshi K (2010) Higher dietary intake of alpha-linolenic acid is associated with lower insulin resistance in middle-aged Japanese. Prev Med 50(5–6):272–276
Matthews DR, Hosker JP, Rudenski AS, Naylor BA, Treacher DF, Turner RC (1985) Homeostasis model assessment: insulin resistance and beta-cell function from fasting plasma glucose and insulin concentrations in man. Diabetologia 28(7):412–419
Lee JM, Okumura MJ, Davis MM, Herman WH, Gurney JG (2006) Prevalence and determinants of insulin resistance among U.S. adolescents: a population-based study. Diabetes Care 29(11):2427–2432
Salomaa V, Ahola I, Tuomilehto J, Aro A, Pietinen P, Korhonen HJ, Penttilä I (1990) Fatty acid composition of serum cholesterol esters in different degrees of glucose intolerance: a population-based study. Metabolism 39(12):1285–1291
Wolters M, Schlenz H, Börnhorst C et al (2015) Desaturase activity is associated with weight status and metabolic risk markers in young children. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 100(10):3760–3769
Wolters M, Dering C, Siani A, Russo P, Kaprio J, Risé P, Moreno LA, de Henauw S, Mehlig K, Veidebaum T, Molnár D, Tornaritis M, Iacoviello L, Pitsiladis Y, Galli C, Foraita R, Börnhorst C, IDEFICS and I. Family consortia (2017) The role of a FADS1 polymorphism in the association of fatty acid blood levels, BMI and blood pressure in young children-analyses based on path models. PLoS One 12(7):e0181485
This work was done as part of the IDEFICS study (http://www.idefics.eu) and the I.Family Study (http://www.ifamilystudy.eu/). The authors wish to thank the IDEFICS/I.Family children and their parents for participating in the extensive examinations. We are grateful for the support of school boards, head teachers and communities. The authors cordially thank Dr. Florence Samkange-Zeeb for the English language editing of the manuscript.
This study was supported by the European Commission within the Sixth RTD Framework Programme (Contract No. 016181 (FOOD)) for the IDEFICS study and within the Seventh RTD Framework Programme (Contract No. 266044) for the I.Family study.
Ethical approval was obtained from all participating study centers.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Sarah Marth and Claudia Börnhorst shared first authorship.
Communicated by Gregorio Paolo Milani
Electronic supplementary material
About this article
Cite this article
Marth, S., Börnhorst, C., Mehlig, K. et al. Associations of whole blood polyunsaturated fatty acids and insulin resistance among European children and adolescents. Eur J Pediatr 179, 1647–1651 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00431-020-03636-1
- Insulin resistance
- n-3 fatty acids
- n-6 fatty acids
- Polyunsaturated fatty acids