New Australian research reveals many children are eating as much salt as adults, raising fresh concerns they are setting themselves up for health problems later in life.
In a sample of 238 children aged 5 to 13 years, seven in ten exceeded the recommended upper limit for sodium, or salt.
Professor Caryl Nowson, who the data at the International Congress of Dietetics in Sydney last month, said on average children are eating around six grams of salt a day, about a level teaspoon full, which is four times more salt than they need.
‘We know that a high salt intake pushes up blood pressure, and that’s linked with serious conditions like heart disease and stroke.
‘A hot dog alone provides about 65 per cent of an eight year old’s maximum daily salt limit.
And a take-away cheeseburger contributes around half the upper limit of salt,’ said Professor Nowson, an Accredited Practising Dietitian.
In an extra blow for children, she said a high salt intake may contribute to obesity risk, as salty foods increase thirst and drive intake of calorie-rich sugary drinks, such as soft drinks.
Professor Nowson said daily salt intake in Australian children could be cut by up to 20 per cent by applying internationally-recognised salt targets to Australian foods.
‘Bringing in clear limits on the amount of salt that is acceptable in manufactured foods would be a step towards a healthier generation of Australians,’ said Professor Nowson.
She said the Federal Government’s Food and Health Dialogue has made some inroads by recommending a reduction in the amount of salt in some food categories, but progress has been slow.
‘Sodium targets have been established in Australia for only six food categories so far. This falls short of other countries, such as the United Kingdom, America and Canada, where targets have been set for more than 80 food types,’ said Professor Nowson.
She called on the Government to also do more to educate parents and children on the harmful effects of a high intake of salt.
Professor Nowson said looking at food labels and choosing breads and cereals with the lowest sodium values to give to kids, together with offering fresh foods, like fruit and vegetables, is the best way to limit salt intake.
• Professor Nowson’s data shows adults don’t fare much better than children when it comes to salt intake, with ninety-seven per cent of Australian men and 86 per cent of women eating too much salt.
• According to a recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report, among Australians aged 25 and over an estimated 30 per cent have high blood pressurei.
• The Federal Government’s Food and Health Dialogue aims to make manufactured foods healthier by, for example, reducing the amount of salt in certain foods. Under the program, sodium targets have been established for six food categories: breads, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, simmer sauces, processed meats, soups, and savoury pies. The Dialogue’s work in Australia’s bread sector has meant around 1,000 tonnes of salt is being removed from the Australian food supply every year.
i Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australia’s Health 2012.
Available at: http://www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=10737422172