However, he added, "based on the findings of the current meta-analysis, I would say that that view was probably wrong and that it's worth spending the money to get a formula supplemented with LCPUFA (which is standard in the United States)."
Assessing infant vision is obviously more complicated than measuring eyesight of older children. Studies in the analysis used behavioral methods or a brain study called visual evoked potential (VEP).
"Behavioral methods rely on observation of infant gaze preferences to determine visual acuity, while VEP examines brain electrical activity," Bloch explained. "Simply put, there is probably more precision and less noise in VEP measures so it has a greater ability to detect a difference."
The brain studies showed a significant benefit on visual acuity from formula supplementation at ages 2 months, 4 months and 12 months, while behavioral tests showed a significant benefit at 2 months.
The researchers had hoped to look at supplementation's effects on vision up to age 18 months but there wasn't enough evidence available.
What the findings mean after a baby's first birthday is unclear, NYU's Nestle emphasized.
"The point is that the effect is small but measurable, but its long-term significance is unclear," Nestle said. "Will babies fed omega-3-supplemented formula have better eyesight as adults than adults fed formula before it was supplemented? That's the important question."
Study author Bloch agreed. "Based on the current data available it is difficult to say whether this just gets babies to developmental acuity faster, or to a better endpoint," he said.
But these nutrients are important, he added.
"Not all fats are created equal," Bloch said. "Some fats our body can make on its own, and some need to be obtained from our diets." He said that supplementation includes "the two main LCPUFA that constitute an integral
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