Consumer demand and health supporting potential of omega-3 testing held back by education and policy

By Nikki Hancocks

- Last updated on GMT

© PixelsEffect | Getty Images
© PixelsEffect | Getty Images

Related tags omega-3 personalisation diagnostics

While there are huge benefits to testing and personalising omega-3 doses, this industry is being held back by a lack of consumer understanding, poor knowledge and support from healthcare professionals and policy barriers, according to speakers at this year's GOED Exchange.

"Interest in personalised nutrition is high, it’s really moving from being a niche opportunity," said Joshua Anthony, CEO at personalised nutrition consulting company Nlumn, speaking during a panel on personalised nutrition at the biannual meeting held in Athens, Greece from Jan 22 to 25.

Presenting the room of omega-3 experts with 2023 data from more than 5,000 U.S. consumers, Anthony revealed that 57% of those surveyed were interested in personalised nutrition, and many of those would like personalised supplements.

Nearly half of those interested in personalised supplements had recently used a personalised nutrition plan, but the majority reported participating in these programmes for six months or less, citing cost as the main reason for ending participation.

However, when it came to supplementation, the majority had participated for seven months or more, which Anthony argued was likely due to the fact that a supplement regimen is much easier to follow than a lifestyle and diet regimen.

GOED-sponsored research

In further research sponsored by GOED, Nlumn conducted surveys across the UK, U.S, Germany, Australia and South Korea where 64% to 76% of those populations expressed that they were definitely or probably interested in testing their omega-3 levels.

Looking at data on how consumers would prefer to be tested, Anthony said that he was surprised to see that at-home finger prick testing was high on the list in every country, preferred over digital dietary intake surveys.

He noted some companies use a range of tests, offering deeper levels of testing with more premium memberships, which can create an effective engagement cycle.

The top reason given for not testing in the U.S., UK and Germany was: “I haven’t heard of this type of testing before”, while in Australia, many said they wanted their doctor to recommend this test.

Discussing this lack of awareness and need for a third party recommendation, he advised it would be beneficial for companies to leverage an outside expert or influencer, adding: "You’re going to want someone with a credible evidence base behind them—influencers are a meaningful way to help drive engagement with products.”

Based on Nlumn's data and projections, Anthony said the U.S. personalised nutrition market alone is worth around $7.8 billion and is worth around twice that globally, growing at 10% to 15%.

“We’re going to fast come to a point where people are competing from a personalisation dollar standpoint,” he said. "I think personalised nutrition is going to continue to gain traction, but getting the value equation right is going to be important. Cost is the top reason people stop using these systems.”

Noting the fact that consumers are interested in investing in their long term health, Anthony suggested one effective way to market a personalised nutrition service might be to provide advice on a range of nutrition parameters, not just omega-3, to holistically help the user with an aspect of their health.

Nestlé personalised maternal omega-3

Majorie van Kuik-Zuijdwijk, global marketing manager for Minami My Omega Market Test at Nestlé Health Science, described Nestlé’s personalised maternal health omega-3 programme.

The firm launched Minami as a ‘pilot test’ of the concept to personalise omega-3 intake for all women prior to conception, during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

“We really thought we had a strong ‘why’,” she explained. “We aim to minimise the risk of preterm birth and maximise health benefits for mother and baby."

She added: “Women in maternal stages are really open to information and willing to listen. So we chose a D2C e-commerce platform reaching out to women in the UK, but we quickly came to one big hurdle—you cannot say everything you want to a consumer. You have to stick to EFSA claims. So the strongest reason ‘why’—prevention of preterm births—we cannot say...

“We found conversion was low, and the only thing we could think of was maybe they are not convinced enough, and we need a healthcare professional to reassure this is something for them.”

Nestlé therefore took the programme to the Netherlands and has started rolling it out after a positive reception from healthcare professionals in the country.

She explained that often midwife units in the Netherlands have in-house nutritionists so those teams already believe in the importance of nutrition, and these teams were keen to action this programme, while other healthcare professionals said "I’ll wait for the guidelines".

Making testing national policy

Lalen Dogan, VP at the nutrition analytic service OmegaQuant, explained that in South Australia, where much of the research into omega-3 and pre-term births has taken place​, since the start of 2023, doctors screen all pregnant women for their omega-3 levels as a matter of protocol, and the government will "hopefully" roll this out as a national programme.

"So this gives us a lot of confidence that the science is strong and hopefully other governments will follow," he asserted.

He warned that elsewhere most doctors are not interested in fatty acid assessments and those who are still "stuck on" the omega-3 to 6 ratio, based on research from the 1970s.

"The omega-3 index is a much better biomarker and much more clinically relevant," he said. "It’s really difficult to reduce omega-6 levels. It’s much easier to increase omega-3 intake to close ratios."

However, he said there are signs of progress as Germany and Switzerland have accepted the omega-3 index as a medical report and "hopefully this momentum will continue".

The panellists and audience agreed that experience suggests many health practitioners either don’t have the ability to provide an omega-3 test, or they do not understand omega-3 levels so can’t explain what the numbers mean.

Policy change will be needed for health care systems to change, but Anthony argued policy change won't come without expanded datasets that show representative data and robust benefits across populations.

"We really need the data from observational studies to set a DRI for EPA and DHA in the U.S. and Canada," he added. "Without that, we’re left with RCT data conducted in an unhealthy population."

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