According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines, children should consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium every day. According to a new report by the CDC, they’re eating about 3,300 mg.
The risks of eating too much salt include high blood pressure, which can lead to stroke and heart disease later in life. And high-sodium foods often have a lot of calories, which undermines weight control.
American youngsters already show the effects of their salty diet. As federal officials said in a story on Reuters.com, 1 in 6 Americans 7 to 18 years old has elevated blood pressure, which is linked closely linked to a high sodium intake and obesity.
Most of the sodium kids eat comes from processed foods including pizza, sandwiches like cheeseburgers, cold cuts and cured meats, pasta with sauce, cheese, salty snacks like potato chips, chicken nuggets and patties, tacos and burritos, bread and soup.
"Most sodium is from processed and restaurant food, not the salt shaker," CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a statement. "Reducing sodium intake will help our children avoid tragic and expensive health problems."
According to the report, more than 9 in 10 U.S. kids between 6 and 18 years old eat too much sodium every day. Teenagers eat more salt than younger kids.
About 65% of their sodium consumption comes from foods purchased in stores; fast food restaurants account for about 13%. Meals provided at school represent 9% of total sodium consumption.
And if you think snacking, and food eaten outside of parental control, is the root of this evil, think again — dinner is the largest single source of sodium, accounting for nearly 40% of daily consumption.
The study involved the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 2009 and 2010, and included interviews with more than 2,000 school-aged children.
Developing a taste for salty foods occurs early, so it’s important for parents to influence diet from a young age, and help their children develop a taste for less salty meals through what they buy, how they prepare it and by establishing healthful eating habits themselves.
As the researchers said, the need is to reduce sodium "across multiple foods, venues and eating occasions." In calling for processed foods with less sodium, they acknowledged that efforts in Britain to reduced total sodium consumption resulted in a 15% decline over seven years.
The CDC recommends that parents and caregivers:
- Model healthful eating for their children by providing a diet rich in fruits and vegetables without added sodium.
- Compare Nutrition Facts labels to choose the lowest sodium option before they buy.
- Ask the grocery manager to provide more low sodium options for their family's favorite foods.
- Request restaurant nutrition information to make lower sodium choices when dining out.