A review of guidance on fish consumption in pregnancy: Is it fit for purpose?

Caroline Taylor*, Pauline Emmett, Alan Emond, Jean Golding

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
337 Downloads (Pure)


Objective: Public health messages to reduce mercury exposure for pregnant women have focused exclusively on advice on fish consumption to limit mercury exposure, with little account being taken of the positive contribution of fish to nutritional quality. The aim of this review is to compare and contrast the content and presentation of national guidelines on fish consumption in pregnancy, and comment on their evidence base and impact on consumption.

Design: We searched for national and international guidelines on fish consumption in pregnancy using internet search strategies. The detailed content and style of presentation of the guidelines were compared. The evidence base for the guidelines, and evidence for the impact of the guidelines on fish consumption levels, were assessed.

Results: We identified 19 national guidelines and 3 international guidelines. There was great variation in the content, complexity and presentation style. The guidelines were largely based on the mercury content of fish with far less consideration being given to the positive beneficial effects nutrients provided by fish. The complexity of the guidelines may lead to pregnant women reducing their fish intake, or not eating fish at all.

Conclusions: Guidelines on fish consumption in pregnancy should take the beneficial effects of fish into account. Guidelines need to be clear and memorable, and appropriately disseminated, to achieve impact. Guidelines could include visual rather than narrative content. Use of technology, for example apps, could enable women to record their fish consumption in real time and log compliance with guidance over a week or other time period.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
JournalPublic Health Nutrition
Early online date26 Mar 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 26 Mar 2018


  • Mercury
  • Fish
  • Pregnancy
  • Guidelines
  • Advisories
  • Review


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