Fish – healthy, but not always liked

Icelandic researchers have found that sensory preconceptions spoil the appetite for fish, but this prejudice can be counteracted.


Early positive sensory experiences increase the probability of liking fish later in life.

Fish is a healthy food, and the WHO recommends that ideally it should be on the menu once or twice a week. The high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, above all in sea fish with a high fat content, are especially important for the health. Fish are also important as a source of vitamin D and trace elements such as iodine and selenium. Whoever eats sea fish regularly lessens their risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Fish supports a balanced weight-loss program and can lessen oxidative stress.

Unfortunately, children and young adults seldom eat fish. Since the dietary habits of earlier years are often carried into adulthood, they can have a long-term negative effect on one’s health.

An Icelandic study by University of Iceland in cooperation with the Food and Biotech  research institute and European Sensory Network member, Matís, is seeking the relevant factors that are responsible for this aversion to fish. The researchers questioned 1498 Icelanders between the age of 17 and 26 as to how often they consumed fish. The researchers also wanted to know if the participants had eaten fish as children, if they believed that fish smelled and tasted good or bad, if healthy food was important, what they thought of fish as nourishment, whether parental pressure influenced the participants’ fish consumption, and whether they were able to prepare and cook fish themselves.

Analyses of the results showed that all of the above-mentioned factors in the willingness to eat fish were important, either directly or indirectly. Young people are more prone to eat fish:

  •     if they had learned to cook and can prepare fish recipes
  •     if they had a positive attitude towards eating fish
  •     if they were interested in eating healthy
  •     if they liked the way fish tastes and smells
  •     if their parents had fish regularly on the family's menu


Eating fish during childhood has an indirect influence on the liking of fish later in life.  Whoever has eaten fish often as a child has a greater probability of enjoying eating it, consequently developing a positive attitude towards the food, and will eat fish on a regular basis on into early adulthood.

Sensory beliefs were shown to be the strongest predictor of attitudes towards fish consumption, followed by social pressure from the parents. An interest in a healthy diet and confidence in one’s own cooking had a comparatively weak influence.

Researcher Kolbrun Sveinsdottir from Matis concluded, “It is important to set up programmes in kindergartens and schools targeted towards establishing a positive sensory experience as early as possible in regards to eating fish. Parents must be encouraged to serve their children fish on a regular basis and also involve them in the preparation and cooking. The industry should take more consideration on presenting fish products that can be more easily prepared and cooked.”

The scientists also recommend that the positive health aspects of fish consumption be given a prominent place in the marketing of seafood products.

A model of fish consumption among young consumers
Thorsdottir F, Sveinsdottir K, Jonsson FH, Einarsdottir G, Thorsdottir I, Martinsdottir E.
Journal of Consumer Marketing, Volume 29, Issue 1,  2012, Pages 4–12
DOI:  10.1108/07363761211193000

Kolbrun Sveinsdottir
Matís -  Icelandic Food and Biotech R&D
Vínlandsleið 12,
113 Reykjavík


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