Children in the U.S. eat almost as much salt as adults, according to a new government study that finds a clear link between sodium intake and higher blood pressure.
The connection was particularly strong among overweight and obese children, said Quanhe Yang from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, who worked on the study.
That’s concerning because both high blood pressure and excessive pounds are risk factors for cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks and stroke down the road, researchers say.
“Our American diet clearly is very high in sodium,” said Dr. Frederick Kaskel, chief of pediatric nephrology at Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York, who was not involved in the research.
“Not only is the high sodium something to be avoided, but it is also indicative of an unhealthy diet,” he told Reuters Health.
The results, released Monday in the journal Pediatrics, are from a CDC study based on national surveys of more than 6,200 children and adolescents aged 8 to 18. The youths had their blood pressure measured between one and three times and also reported their diet in the prior 24 hours.
On average, they ate 3,387 milligrams of sodium a day – considerably more than the 2,300 mg (about one teaspoon of salt) the government recommends as the upper limit.
According to previous data from the CDC, U.S. adults consume 3,466 mg of sodium per day by comparison.
“Kids are consuming as much sodium as adults, which far exceeds the recommended amount,” Yang told Reuters Health, encouraging parents and others to “read the label when you go shopping and buy the food with the lowest sodium content.”
Yang and his colleagues found that for every 1,000 mg of extra sodium in the children’s diets, there was a one-point rise increase in blood pressure. Among overweight and obese kids, each 1,000 mg of sodium was tied to a blood pressure increase of 1.5 points.
In adults, high blood pressure is defined as at least 140 mm Hg (the top, or systolic, number) or 90 mm Hg (the bottom, or diastolic, number). Doctors also talk about “pre-hypertension,” which is defined as a top number between 120 mm Hg and 140 mm Hg or a bottom number between 80 mm Hg and 90 mm Hg.
The potential health effects of the small blood pressure variations seen in the study are not clear. But Kaskel said they could spell trouble later on.
“The antecedents of adult cardiovascular disease are seen early on in the pediatric age group,” he said. “We shouldn’t underestimate the potential harms of a 1-mm increase in systolic blood pressure.”
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