Children consuming too much salt: study

We've long been warned about too much sugar in our children's diets, now it seems we're feeding them too much salt as well.

New research presented at an international dietetics conference in Sydney this week shows that on average children are eating about 6g of sodium, or salt, a day - four times more than they need.

Professor Caryl Nowson said that in a sample of 238 Australian children aged five to 13, 70 per cent exceeded the recommended upper limit for salt.

"A hot dog alone provides about 65 per cent of an eight-year-old's maximum daily salt limit, and a takeaway cheeseburger contributes around half the upper limit of salt," she said.

University of Wollongong Associate Professor Karen Charlton, of the School of Health Sciences, said a high salt intake set kids up for health problems later in life.

"High salt intake increases risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease, as well as gastric cancer in some populations," she said.

"Importantly, salt intake in childhood contributes to the development of hypertension in later life and a preference for salt taste develops in children as young as two years if they are exposed to high-salt diets."

Prof Charlton said that dietary patterns established in childhood tended to track through to adolescence and adulthood.

"Variation in salty taste perception and liking is mostly caused by learned experiences rather than genetics," she said.

"This is evidenced by the fact that children aged 12 to 13 years who report eating at fast food restaurants more than once a month also demonstrate a higher preference for salty foods.

"In adults, a 'resetting' of salt taste preference can occur over a period of weeks or months as salt intake is gradually reduced. However, it is unclear whether salt taste in children can be unlearned over time."

About 75 per cent of the salt we eat comes from processed foods according to Prof Charlton.

"Many Australians are aware they shouldn't be eating too much salt and have stopped adding salt in cooking or at the table," she said. "However, common foods such as bread, cereals, processed meat and pre-prepared meals can have very high levels of 'hidden' salt."

Professor Nowson told the Sydney conference that salt intake in children could be cut by up to 20 per cent by applying internationally recognised 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," she said.

As a rule of thumb, for a food to be low in salt, it should have 120mg or less of sodium per 100g. Anything with over 500mg per 100g is a high salt food and should be eaten sparingly.

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