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Children’s diets are too salty

28th Mar 2014

Children in the UK are eating too much salt, according to a study published in the Journal Hypertension.  It is recommended that children eat less than a teaspoon of salt a day, but the study reported that 70% of the children, who took part in the project, consumed more than this.

Controlling the level of salt intake in childhood is important as previous studies have suggested that children who eat excessive amounts of salt are 40% more likely to have high blood pressure, compared with children who eat lower amounts.

The results of this study indicate that children are still consuming too much salt in their diets, despite a UK wide drive to reduce the amount of salt levels in food, with manufacturers reducing salt level in many of their products. The authors say that efforts to further lower salt levels in food are needed because salt increases the risk of high blood pressure from a very young age, and high blood pressure can lead to heart disease and stroke.

The study looked at the salt intake of 340 children. The daily recommended maximum amount of salt children should eat depends on age. The authors reported that on average five and six-year-old children in the study consumed 3.75g of salt a day – more than the recommended 3g maximum, whilst eight and nine year olds consumed 4.72g of salt (within their daily limit of 5g salt) and thirteen to seventeen years old consumed 7.55g (which is higher than the recommended 6g limit), suggesting teenagers especially, were eating too much salt – and boys tended to eat more salt than girls.

Looking at the children’s food diaries most of the salt came from processed foods, rather than salt being added to the food afterwards at the table. A breakdown of the food groups showed that breads and cereals accounted for more than one-third of the salt in children’s diets, a fifth came from meat and one-tenth from dairy products. So it was not necessarily unhealthy ‘junk food’ that accounted for the salt but often regularly consumed products like bread. Perhaps, surprisingly, a typical breakfast of cereals and toast can be the saltiest meal of the day – even though many wholemeal breads and cereals are marketed as healthy options. This is mainly due to the levels of salt added to these foods in the manufacturing process.

Lead researcher Prof Graham MacGregor said the food industry ‘must do more’ to cut salt commenting, “It is very difficult for parents to reduce children’s salt intake unless they avoid packaged and restaurant foods and prepare each meal from scratch using fresh, natural ingredients.”

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “On average, we are eating approximately 2g of salt more each day than the recommended amount and it is vital that we address this. This is why we are working with industry through the Responsibility Deal to reduce the amount of salt in foods. We have just finalised new salt targets for 76 categories of food and call on industry to sign up.”

Consumers are advised to check the salt content of foods and aim for foods that have a low or medium salt content: Low is 0.3g salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium), medium is 0.3g -1.5g per 100g and high is more than 1.5g per 100g (0.6g sodium)

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