Don't Pass the Salt

American children consume far more sodium than the recommended limit, CDC research found.

Any food that has been changed from its original, raw form in order to package or store is considered processed. Most people recognize that processed foods are less healthy than natural foods. But it’s not because of what they are—it’s because of what’s added to them.

According to a press release issued by Elsevier Health Sciences, a new study found that American children are consuming sodium at levels that far exceed the recommended limit. And it’s putting them at increased risk for cardiovascular disease as adults.

Researchers said the taste preferences for high-sodium foods take root in childhood and remain in adulthood. This is important because excess sodium raises blood pressure and increases one’s risk for heart attack and stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

To conduct the study, CDC researchers used data from the 2011-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to look at the eating habits of 2,142 children between 6 and 18 years old.

Researchers found that on average, children consumed a whopping 3,256 milligrams of sodium daily, not including any added table salt. This is much higher than the recommended daily intake, which ranges from 1,900 to 2,300 milligrams, depending on age.

They also found that, on average, 39 percent of the kids’ sodium came from dinner, 31 percent from lunch, 16 percent from snacks and 14 percent from breakfast. Grocery store foods accounted for 58 percent of the sodium intake, 16 percent came from fast food/pizza and 10 percent came from the school cafeteria.

Interestingly, almost 50 percent of the kids’ sodium intake came from just 10 types of food, including pizza, Mexican mixed dishes, sandwiches, breads, cold cuts, soups, savory snacks, cheese, plain milk and poultry.

"With the exception of plain milk, which naturally contains sodium, the top ten food categories contributing to US school children's sodium intake in 2011-2012 comprised foods in which sodium is added during processing or preparation," lead author Zerleen S. Quader, MPH, said in the press release.

Quader is a data analyst with the CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention.

"Sodium is consumed throughout the day from multiple foods and locations, highlighting the importance of sodium reduction across the U.S. food supply," Quader said.

Because sodium content varies so much based on how food is cooked and prepared, the researchers suggested parents read nutrition labels. They also suggest that parents feed their kids a diet rich in fruits and vegetables without sauces with added sodium and ask to see nutritional information at restaurants.

Also, is the salt and blood pressure connection as clear as once believed?

"The results support the need to reduce sodium content across the US food supply rather than in a single type of food or venue," Quader said in the press release. "These data provide baseline information on sources of sodium intake among US school-aged children that can be used to monitor changes in the food supply over time."

The full study is published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

It was supported by the Research Participation Program for the CDC.

The authors declared no conflicts of interest.