The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published new findings this week about American children and their escalated salt intake.
The findings show that children are eating as much salt as adults, which is about 1,000 milligrams more than their recommended intake. A Big Mac from McDonald’s has that amount.
Researchers from the CDC studied data on 6,200 kids from 8 to 18 in national health surveys from 2003-08. Over a period of several days, children were asked twice to list the foods they had eaten the previous day, according to the Associated Press. Researchers then calculated salt intake from their answers.
Fifteen percent of the children monitored either had high blood pressure or pre-hypertension, a slightly elevated blood pressure.
Those who ate the most salt were twice as much at risk of having high blood pressure, but the risk was three times as much for overweight or obese children.
Dr. Ayman Arouse, M.D., a pediatrician on the medical staff at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Cleburne, said pre-hypertension has become a relatively common issue.
“It used to be rare and related to disease, but right now, unfortunately, with lifestyle and the obesity epidemic, we’re keeping an eye on blood pressure and seeing kids with high blood pressure,” he said. “We monitor them and do a lot of interventions as far as diets. It’s definitely an issue we have to face on a daily basis.”
Arouse and the CDC said children and adults’ recommended sodium intake is no more than one teaspoon a day, or about 2,300 milligrams. The study showed children were eating 3,300 milligrams on average a day.
Studies have shown that having elevated blood pressure or even just pre-hypertension as a child can lead to potentially premature high heart disease and high blood pressure as an adult, according to the AP.
Arouse said popular foods among children have a high salt content.
“Usually one meal in a fast food restaurant with all of the salt on the fries and food is equal to what you need in the whole day,” he said. “What you eat in that meal, plus everything else you eat is extra [sodium].”
Other foods Arouse advised parents to keep their kids away from were canned foods, any aged meats and cheese and frozen meals.
“Aside from salt, drinks have sodium and caffeine in them which adds to the blood pressure problem as well,” Arouse said.
Blood pressure in children needs to be checked three times to determine its accuracy, and sometimes a high blood pressure is just because the child is stressed or uncomfortable in a doctor’s office, Arouse said. Determining whether a child is in a normal blood pressure range depends on age, height and gender, according to the study.
A normal reading for those 18 and up is below 120 over 80, according to the Mayo Clinic website.
According to the AP, readings between 120 over 80 and 140 over 90 are considered pre-hypertension, and 140 over 90 and up is high blood pressure.