Children are eating as much salt as adults, according to a new report, and experts are concerned.
Most adults consume too much sodium and that can have serious health implications. Too much salt in a person's diet can raise your blood pressure; high blood pressure increases the risk for heart disease and stroke.
In this new study, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, researchers found that if a child is overweight and eats as much salt as an adult, the risk for high blood pressure goes up dramatically.
Health experts recommend that most people eat no more than 2,300 milligrams of salt a day, the equivalent of 1 teaspoon. But children and adults alike are consuming, on average, about 3,400 milligrams daily, according to the study.
The study authors found that when young people increased their daily salt levels by 1,000 milligrams, the risk for high blood pressure increased 74% for overweight or obese youngsters, but only 6% for kids in the normal weight range. The researchers looked at more than 6,200 young people, ages 8 to 18. More than a third were overweight or obese and 15% had elevated or high blood pressure.
Most of the salt we consume is already in the foods we eat, not what we add at the dinner table.
Breads and rolls, cold cuts, pizza, fresh and processed poultry, soups, sandwiches, cheese, pasta dishes, meat dishes and snacks are the top 10 food sources that account for 44% of sodium consumed, according a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in February.
"If you have high blood pressure in childhood, it's likely that the effects will last into adulthood. Increased blood pressure is one of the most significant risk factors for cardiovascular disease (heart disease)," explains lead study author Quanhe Yang, who works with the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The secret is in the anatomy
So why do heavier children appear to be at higher risk for hypertension or high blood pressure? Scientists can't explain it fully, but they've found that overweight kids tend to be more sensitive to salt's effect on the body.
Let's take a quick look at our anatomy to get a better picture. When we eat more salt, we retain more water. Part of the water ends up in our blood stream, increasing the volume of blood and causing the heart to pump harder to move the extra blood. Blood pressure increases as a result.
Over time, the increase in pressure causes wear and tear on the walls of our blood vessels, making it easier for fat-like substances to build up and narrow the vessel. The accumulation of those substances may lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Takeaway for parents
Parents can reduce their child's chances of developing high blood pressure. Most of the sodium we eat comes from packaged, processed or restaurant food. But no matter the source, we need to cut back. Start at the grocery store. Salt is hidden in many foods, so scrutinizing food labels is essential. Low sodium options are often available.
"At a restaurant, ask if they can provide the nutrition content of the food or if they can not add sodium to the meal," Yang says.
He adds that it's important for overweight children to try to get down to a normal weight, exercise, and to eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.