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Sad salt stats for America's youth

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
sodium, salt, hypertension, high blood pressure, obesity, children

According to a new study, American children are damaging their health by eating too much salt. The research was conducted by investigators affiliated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Their findings appeared on September 17 online in the journal Pediatrics.

The aim of the study was to assess the association between usual dietary sodium intake and blood pressure among US children and adolescents, overall and by weight status.

The study group comprised children and adolescents aged 8 to 18 years (6,235 individuals) who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES; 2003–2008). The subjects’ usual sodium intake was estimated by asking the children twice over several days to detail all foods they had eaten the previous day. The data was used to examine the association between sodium intake and blood pressure or risk for pre-high blood pressure and high blood pressure.

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The researchers found that the children consumed an average of 3,387 mg/day of sodium; furthermore, 37% were overweight or obese. Each 1,000 mg per day sodium intake (the amount present in one McDonald’s Big Mac Hamburger) was associated with an increase in systolic blood pressure among all subjects. Overall, 15% of the subjects had either high blood pressure or pre-high blood pressure. The children with the highest salt intake had double the risk of having elevated blood pressure, compared with those who ate few salty foods. However, among overweight or obese children, the risk was more than triple. The researcher noted that sodium intake and weight status appeared to have synergistic effects on risk for pre-high blood pressure and high blood pressure. A synergistic effect is when the combined effect of two effects is greater than the sum of the two effects.

The recommended daily sodium intake for both children and adults is no more than 1 teaspoon daily (approximately 2,300 milligrams). On the average, the study participants ingested 3,300 milligrams daily. The authors concluded that sodium intake is positively associated with an increase in systolic blood pressure; thus, it is a risk for pre-high blood pressure and high blood pressure among US children and adolescents; furthermore, this association may be stronger among those who are overweight or obese.

Take home message: This week the McDonald’s food chain began informing consumers of the calorie count of their products; however, it would be worthwhile publicize sodium content as well. In general, restaurant food is higher in sodium than meals prepared at home. Processed foods and preserved foods are high in sodium. All canned foods, particularly canned meats, are high in sodium. These food products contain other preservatives such as nitrates and nitrates. Eat health and be healthy!

Reference: Pediatrics

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