Nearly a decade ago, during my younger son’s annual well-visit, I was mildly surprised when the attending nurse checked his blood pressure among other vitals. He was only three at the time. I did not know then, but the (U.S.) National Health guidelines recommend measuring blood pressure in children aged 3 and older every time they visit a doctor for any medical reason (R&R:1). Until then, I had known high blood pressure (HBP) to affect only adults– especially those in the older age groups. Kids? Sad but true–one in nine children in the U.S. has elevated blood pressure, per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website (R&R:2). And high-salt intake is a big factor in increasing the risk of HBP among kids.
The researchers in a 2012 study found a link between high sodium intake and high blood pressure among kids aged 8-18 years ((R&R: 3). The association was even higher among kids who were considered overweight or obese. What does that mean for our kids? “High blood pressure in childhood predisposes people to hypertension in adulthood and is associated with early development of cardiovascular disease and risk for premature death,” states the same 2012 research study, citing a number of other studies that explored the connection between developing HBP in adulthood based on HBP in childhood. The link between high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease probably seems familiar if you have read the the blogpost Make Salt a Negotiable Ingredient. To me it sounds like our kids’ hearts, arteries to be more precise, are aging faster than they should.
But HBP is not the only downside to too much sodium intake in kids and adolescents. High sodium intake is also linked to increased excretion of calcium from bones through urine among adults as well as children (R&R: 4). A diet consistently high in sodium can, therefore, lead to a higher risk of osteoporosis later in life, especially for girls. Another health condition which usually manifests later in life and is linked to high sodium intake is stomach cancer. Excessive salt can damage the stomach lining and promote the growth of Helicobacter Pylori-a bacteria associated with gastric cancer (R&R: 5).
Kids in every age group consume more sodium than recommended
It appears that high salt intake is harmful not only for adults but also for kids. Therefore, it is worth examining how much salt do kids eat on a daily basis and how much should they eat? The salt intake in children increases with age, which is likely explained by the natural increase in the number of calories (increase in the amount of food) with age. However, the news is not great when we compare the recommended sodium intake with the actual in children in different age groups. In every age group, the actual sodium intake exceeds the recommended amount. What stands out to me is that kids as young as 2 years have more sodium in their diet than is recommended. It is worth noting that we need only 500 mg (or little less than 1/4 teaspoon) of sodium on a daily basis.
Source: Graph based on data from National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2009-2012 and USDA/U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
The cumulative effect of eating a little extra salt everyday
The difference in daily sodium intake between recommended and actual appears to be small and when measured in terms of salt, it varies between less than 1/3 of a teaspoon to a little more than 1/2 a teaspoon of salt among kids in different age groups. However, the cumulative effect of a little extra sodium adds 2-4 cups of extra salt in children’s diet over the course of a year. And that extra sodium becomes a part of kids’ diet from an early age–as young as 2 years. Since that extra sodium is capable of producing a host of negative health effects, it is worth examining kids’ diet (stay tuned for sources of sodium in kids’ diet).
The world has become flat
Salt intake is higher than recommended in children in the U.S. This blog post largely presents data for recommended and actual sodium intake in U.S. kids. However, as Thomas Friedman’s bestseller The World Is Flat explicates the globalization of the world, the diet of children in different parts of the globe appears to be somewhat similar to that of American children (more on this later). As diet-related diseases become more pervasive around the globe, it’s still worth examining the amount of sodium in your children’s diet even if their diet differs significantly from that of the U.S. children. This is likely why the World Health Organization (WHO) issued guidelines for its 194 member states for the first time in 2012 for reducing sodium in children’s diet, according to a January 2013 Reuters article (R&R: 6).
So to answer my own question I posed in the title–NO, KIDS ARE NOT IMMUNE TO HIGH-SALT DIET.
References & Resources:
- Diagnosis, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure in Children and Adolescents (Report)–The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Health, National, Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention (https://www.cdc.gov).
- Quanhe Yang, Zefeng Zhang, Elena V. Kuklina, Jing Fang, Carma Ayala, Yuling Hong, Fleetwood Loustalot, Shifan Dai, Janelle P. Gunn, Niu Tian, Mary E. Cogswell, Robert Merritt. Sodium Intake and Blood Pressure Among US Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics, 2012; Vol.130/Issue 4
- Cappuccio FP1, Kalaitzidis R, Duneclift S, Eastwood JB. Unravelling the links between calcium excretion, salt intake, hypertension, kidney stones and bone metabolism. Journal of Nephrology. 2000 May-Jun;13(3):169-77.
- Tsugane, Shoichiro. Salt, salted food intake, and risk of gastric cancer: Epidemiologic evidence. Cancer Science. 2005; Vol. 96