Children consume as much sodium as adults, which may elevate their blood pressure and contribute to cardiovascular disease later in life, says a recent study.
Remember the Italian tradition of throwing salt over one’s shoulder? Perhaps you should be tossing a bit more.
While the Institute of Medicine recommends consuming no more than 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams—or one teaspoon—of sodium per day, children are currently consuming the same amount as adults at an excess of 1,000 milligrams according to a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“If you have high blood pressure in childhood, it's likely that the effects will last into adulthood,” explained the CDC's lead study author Quanhe Yang. “Increased blood pressure is one of the most significant risk factors for cardiovascular disease (heart disease).”
Higher sodium intake causes high blood pressure in youth, which may lead to increased risk for stroke, heart disease, and other cardiovascular diseases. The risk, say the study's researchers, is even greater among obese or overweight individuals. Negative effects of sodium consumption during childhood are also associated with high blood pressure in adulthood.
Study authors examined the sodium intake of more than 6,000 American children and teenagers, ages 8 to 18, via dietary recall. Of those children, 15-percent had high blood pressure or prehypertension. Researchers discovered that when individuals raised their consumption an extra 1,000 milligrams, high blood pressure increased 6 percent in children within the healthy weight range, and 74-percent in overweight or obese children.
“When you eat more calories, as kids who are overweight tend to do, you are almost certainly eating more salt,” commented Pediatric Cardiologist Stephen Daniels of the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “This study tells us that sodium intake may be a bigger issue for kids who are overweight.”
The human body requires between 180 and 500 milligrams of sodium each day for proper bodily functionality, including but not limited to: muscle contractions, nerve functions, water balance regulation, nutrient absorption, electrolyte equilibrium, and blood pressure maintenance.
The problem, say researchers, is that the human body simply cannot handle the large amounts of sodium people consume. Because salt causes water retention, this water increases the blood's volume and forces the heart to exert more force in order to pump the blood throughout the body. Increased blood pressure then causes stress on blood vessels and allows fatty substances to build up, leading to heart attacks or strokes.
“Foods that you would never think of, such as breads and many breakfast cereals, are very high in salt,” said Daniels. “If the food industry would get on board and gradually reduce the salt in their products, that could have a huge impact.”
The CDC reports that 65-percent of consumed sodium comes from retail stores and 25-percent comes from restaurant foods. A little less than half of all sodium consumed comes breads, rolls, pizza, cold cuts, soups, sandwiches, cheese, pastas, and snacks. One hamburger can contain upwards of 1,600 milligrams of sodium, or an entire day's recommended sodium level.
“We clearly need to reduce sodium intake at the population level,” said Elena V. Kuklina, the study's co-author. “We can do this by eating more fruits and vegetables and less processed foods.”
Researchers urge Americans to limit their sodium intake, concentrating on reading labels to find low-sodium options, eating a diet in potassium-rich fruits and vegetables, consuming fewer processed and packaged foods, and increasing physical activity.
With more than 800,000 vascular disease-related deaths every year, costing Americans an astounding $273 billion spent on health care in 2010 alone, the CDC is making every effort to encourage healthier eating habits.
The study is available online at http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2012/09/12/peds.2011-3870