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Kids and Sodium Intake

By Nancy M. Ouhib, MBA, RD, LD/N / June 1, 2018

Sodium is an essential nutrient that our body needs to perform its metabolic functions each day. When it comes to adults, the consensus is that a high intake of sodium will increase the chances of hypertension and stroke. Decreasing sodium intake to reduce your risk of heart disease is recommended by the American Heart Association and in the 2015-2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines. Well, what about children and teenagers? While there has been much less research on these age groups, studies have shown that sodium reduction in children and teens is associated with small reductions in blood pressure.

About 90 percent of our sodium intake comes from sodium chloride, or table salt, which is composed of 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride. It is absorbed in the intestine and excreted mainly by the kidneys.

While young and old people consume too much sodium, not getting enough can have serious consequences. Excessive fluid intake can cause hyponatremia and this can cause sodium in the blood to be diluted to a dangerously low amount. This can result in seizures, coma, brain damage, and even death. This is an important example how sodium plays an important role in our health, as well as, disease.
Kids and Sodium Intake

It has been estimated that if Americans decreased their sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day, it could result in a 25 percent decrease in blood pressure. To put that into perspective for youngsters, a single kid's meal at a fast food restaurant could exceed that amount of sodium. Almost 90 percent of children ages 6 to 18 in the United States consume far more sodium than the current recommended intakes. That is important as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that one in six children ages 8 to 17 have above normal blood pressure. Several studies have found that high sodium intakes in childhood can lead to prehypertension that can carry over to hypertension as an adult. The association between sodium intake and prehypertension appears to be stronger among children who are overweight or obese.

A recent study published in The Journal of Pediatrics found that the incidence of hypertension decreased among children ages 6 to 18 who adhered closely to the DASH-style diet. DASH, which limits sodium to about 2,300 mg per day, includes whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products. It also includes poultry, fish, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

Here is a quick breakdown of the sources of sodium in the average US diet: 5 percent is added while cooking, 6 percent is added while eating, 12 percent comes from natural sources, and a whopping 77 percent comes from processed and prepared foods.

A recent study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reveals some insight into the sodium intake of children and where that sodium comes from. Current recommended sodium intake for school-aged children ranges from 1,900 mg to 2,300 mg per day. Here are a few of the most revealing sodium intake statistics from this study:
  • Almost 90 percent of the children exceeded the upper level of sodium recommended for their age group.
  • The average sodium intake was 3,256 mg per day, not including salt added at the table.
  • Average sodium intake among high school children was comparable to that of adults and about 500 mg higher than younger children.
  • Sodium intakes were highest among teens aged 14 to 18.
  • Girls consumed significantly less sodium than boys.
  • Only ten types of foods make up almost 50 percent of kids' sodium intake.
These statistics are concerning and make it even more important to reduce sodium consumption among children because taste preferences formed in childhood can influence food choices and salt usage in adulthood. Start teaching your children now about reducing their salt/sodium intake for a healthier lifestyle.




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