Doctors always seem to be recommending a lower salt intake, but a new report finds it may be more urgent than previously thought. A whopping ninety percent of American children eat more than the recommended daily intake every day, potentially causing health problems like high blood pressure at a surprisingly young age.
The report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) looked at U.S. children between the ages of six and eighteen. Dietary guidelines recommend a maximum of 2,300 mg of salt per day, but the study found that children consume about 3,279 mg of salt, about 1,000 mg more than they should daily. That number does not even take into consideration extra salt that they may add to their food once it reaches the table.
The researchers found most of the salt came from processed foods. This included store-bought food like pizza, hamburgers and similar sandwiches, tacos and burritos, and chicken nuggets. It also included snack items like potato chips as well as soup, pasta dishes, bread, and cold cut meats. About forty percent of the daily sodium intake came from eating dinner.
Pizza and other fast food restaurants were responsible for about thirteen percent of the salt, with another sixty-five percent coming from store-bought food. Surprisingly, about nine percent of the salt came from school cafeteria food.
About a third of Americans have high blood pressure, and this includes about one in six children who either have or are borderline high blood pressure. Researchers are still trying to determine whether a high salt intake does, in fact, lead to high blood pressure, although that is the official position of the American Heart Association. They recommend people consume no more than 1,500 mg of salt per day. It may just depend on the individual, with some people more prone to blood pressure raises from salt than others.
Eating too much salt can affect more than just blood pressure, though. It can also lead to health issues such as heart disease and contribute to other health problems such as obesity. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for Americans, and some studies suggest that if daily sodium intake was reduced by forty percent, it could save 280,000 to 500,000 lives in the next decade.
There are some changes coming up for school meals. New standards will reduce the salt content of cafeteria foods by twenty-five to fifty percent, a huge improvement. However, since school food only accounts for about nine percent of a child’s salt intake in a day, that will only reduce salt by about 150 mg each day overall.
Some large restaurant chains, like Olive Garden and Taco Bell, are already voluntarily reducing the amount of salt in their foods. While this will help, a larger number of companies would have to cut back on their salt content to have a significant impact on the population. In Britain, a nationwide effort managed to reduce the salt content in citizens’ diets by about fifteen percent over the course of seven years. This accomplishment gives hope for a similar effort in the U.S.
The study shows that simply avoiding the salt shaker is not enough to ensure a low salt diet. Avoiding too many processed foods may be the only way for parents to ensure their kids are keeping their salt levels in check.