Omega-3 supplementation has been found to reduce externalizing behavior in children. Reciprocal models of parent-child behavior suggest that improving child behavior could lead to improvements in parent behavior. However, no study has examined whether omega-3 supplementation in children could reduce intimate partner violence or child maltreatment by their adult caregivers. The current study aimed to address this limitation by examining the effect of a randomized controlled trial of nutritional supplementation in children on family violence, including intimate partner violence and child maltreatment.
We conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, stratified, parallel group trial in a community sample of children who were randomized to receive either a fruit drink containing 1 gm of omega-3 fats (Smartfish Recharge; Omega-3 group, n = 100) or the same fruit drink without omega-3’s (Placebo group, n = 100). Child participants, adult caregivers, and research staff were blinded to group assignment. Adult caregivers reported inter-partner and child-directed physical assault and psychological aggression at baseline, 6 months (end of treatment), and 12 months (6 months post-treatment) using the Conflicts Tactics Scale.
Caregivers of children in the omega-3 group reported long-term reductions in psychological aggression in a group x time interaction. Improvements in adult psychological aggression were correlated with improvements in child externalizing behavior scores. No differences were reported for child maltreatment.
These findings suggest that improving child behavior through omega-3 supplementation could reduce intimate partner violence. Results are consistent with reciprocal models of parent-child behavior, which treat the family as a dynamic system in which the behavior of parents and children have mutual effects on one another (Patterson & Dishion, 1992). To our knowledge, only one other study has documented the efficacy of child omega-3 supplementation in improving caregiver psychopathology (Raine et al. 2015), and this is the first study to examine its effects on intimate partner violence. Findings suggest that improving child behavior through omega-3 supplementation could have long-term benefits to the family system as a whole. Future research should investigate whether simultaneously supplementing both caregivers and their children has a synergistic effect that reduces behavior problems over and above the effects of supplementing each alone.