A new study carried out by researchers from Queen Mary University of London has found that children in the UK are consuming too much salt, with much of it coming from breads and cereals.
Eating too much salt is one of the main factors behind high blood pressure which in turn increases risk of heart disease and stroke. Previous studies have suggested that children who eat excessive amounts of salt are 40% more likely to have high blood pressure, compared with children who eat lower amounts of salt.
In the US, the American Heart Association recommends that people eat no more than 3.7 g (equivalent to a teaspoon) of salt each day. However, in the UK, national guidelines recommend that adults should eat no more than 6 g of salt each day.
To measure salt intake, the research team analysed 24-hour urine samples from 340 children. The children in the study also kept a detailed food diary, with the help of their parents, which included photos of all food and beverages they had eaten. The participants took a picture of the food before eating and any leftovers.
The researchers recorded the following results:
§ 5 and 6 year olds consumed 3.75 g of salt each day
§ 8 and 9 year olds consumed 4.71 g of salt each day
§ 13-17 year olds consumed 7.55 g of salt each day.
They also found that boys tended to consume more salt than girls. Boys had about 1 g more of salt per day in 5-6 year olds and 2.5 g per day more in 13-17 year olds.
About 36% of the salt came from breads and cereals, with 19% from meat products and 11% from dairy products.
A nationwide salt reduction program has been launched in the UK to tackle the high levels of salt consumed. This has included lowering the levels of salt that food companies are able to include in supermarket and restaurant foods.
"We know that salt starts increasing the risk of high blood pressure in children starting at age 1," says Dr. Graham MacGregor, study author and Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Barts and The London School of Medicine & Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London. "There needs to be a much greater effort to reduce salt in foods."
"While salt intake in children wasn't measured prior to the UK's salt reduction campaign, the salt intake in adults has fallen 15% in 6 years," he adds. "So, that policy is working, but it's not working fast enough. We need to do more and the US needs a similar program."
"It is very difficult for parents to reduce children's salt intake unless they avoid packaged and restaurant foods and prepare each meal from scratch using fresh, natural ingredients," MacGregor acknowledges.
The study was published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension.