New Study: Sodium a Concern for Children
The study, which was published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, analyzed the diets and blood pressure of children between the ages of 8 and 18 in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.It found that children consumed on average 3,387 milligrams of sodium a day. That is roughly the same amount U.S. adults consume on average, and well above the U.S. dietary guidelines' limit of less than 2,300 milligrams per day—or less than one teaspoon of table salt—which is recommended for people 2 years of age or older. An even smaller amount—less than 1,500 milligrams—is recommended for older Americans, African Americans and anyone with high blood pressure.
Salt is the latest front in the struggle to get Americans to eat a healthier diet, after moves to reduce fat and sugar. Studies have shown a link between sodium consumption and blood pressure, though there is debate over how much sodium contributes to cardiovascular disease.The study showed that, for children of normal weight, the risk of developing high blood pressure or "pre" high blood pressure rose 6% for every 1,000 milligrams of sodium consumed per day. But the risk rose 74% for children who were overweight or obese.
"We found a significant association between high sodium intake and high blood pressure among all the kids we studied, but it was magnified among kids who were overweight or obese," said Quanhe Yang, lead author and a senior scientist in the division for heart disease and stroke prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study didn't address why sodium's effect is greater in those who weigh more.The findings add to an already worrisome picture of the cardiovascular health of U.S. children. About 34% of U.S. children are overweight or obese, according to the CDC. That group has a higher prevalence of risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. Another recent CDC study showed that cholesterol levels in U.S. children and teens dropped over the past two decades, but they still remain abnormally high.
About 14% of U.S. adolescents ages 12 to 19 have pre-hypertension or hypertension, according to the CDC, and rates are higher among heavier children. About 10% of children of normal weight and 25% of obese children have pre-hypertension or hypertension.The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National High Blood Pressure Education Program Working Group recommend that children over 3 years old have their blood pressure screened regularly during doctors visits.
Reducing sodium is a particular challenge because at least 75% of the average American's intake comes from processed or restaurant foods, according to the CDC. And much of the sodium people ingest comes from foods that don't necessarily taste salty, since sodium is used not just to flavor food, but also to preserve it. Foods with high sodium content include bread, pizza, canned soup and pasta dishes—all staples in the contemporary diet of children.John K. Stevens, a pediatric cardiologist with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, a pediatric hospital system, said the findings are of concern because "obesity itself is a risk factor for early cardiovascular disease." He sees a growing number of children at risk, he said, and counsels them to reduce sodium along with other changes such as eating more fruits and vegetables and getting more exercise. "Multiple things impact blood pressure,' he said.
"I'm not dogmatic," he said, of advising kids to cut back on sodium. "But pizza shouldn't be your mainstay."
The Wall Street Journal
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