Federal officials on Tuesday announced that they would recommend for the first time that women who are pregnant or breast-feeding and young children eat a minimum of two servings of low-mercury seafood every week for their health.
The recommendations represent a significant shift for the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, whose previous seafood advisory in 2004 set only an upper limit on the amount of fish that these groups should eat.
The proposed advisory, which will enter a public commenting period, recommends a weekly limit of 12 ounces — or about three servings — of low-mercury seafood like salmon, shrimp, cod, tilapia and light canned tuna for the women. But unlike the last advisory, it now encourages a minimum of two servings, or about eight ounces, which was prompted by an F.D.A. analysis that found that one in five pregnant women in the United States ate little or no fish at all.
Dr. Stephen Ostroff, the F.D.A.’s acting chief scientist, said the agency was concerned that pregnant and nursing women were missing out on the benefits of eating fish. He cited studies showing that children born to women who consume fish have higher I.Q.s and better cognitive development than children born to women who do not.
“A large percentage of women are simply not eating enough fish, and as a result they are not getting the developmental and health benefits that fish can provide,” he said. “Studies very consistently demonstrate that among women who consumed more fish during pregnancy — or at least the amounts we’re currently recommending — that there were improvements in children.”