Some children's food items contain more salt than the deep blue sea, according to a new study.
Reducing children's consumption of salt by half brings about a dramatic reduction in their blood pressure which would help to protect them from the risk of heart disease and stroke later in life.
AdvertisementThe report states that popular children's food like Sainsbury's Salt and Vinegar Potato Twirls contain more than twice as much salt as the Atlantic, around 5.8g per 100 compared to 2.5g. Some other culprits that were found were Unilever's Pepperami stick with 4.25g per 100, Walkers Cheese Quavers at 3.5g, Kraft Dairylea Slices Light with 2.8g and KP Skips prawn flavour at 2.75g also contain more salt than the sea. Both KP's Baked Mini Cheddars - Original and Nestle Golden Graham Cereal were each found to have 2.5g salt per 100g.
Salt reduction in adults has long been linked with reductions in hypertension.
Dr Feng He, from the Blood Pressure Unit of St Georges University of London, who carried out the meta-analysis, accused food manufacturers of not doing enough to reduce salt.
She said: "We do not know if children's blood pressure is higher now than it has been in the past, but food companies are not doing enough to reduce the amount of salt in their products.
"We have known for some time that high salt intake increases blood pressure and if this is high in childhood it will be high when you turn into an adult.
"This puts you at greater risk of heart attacks or heart failure and other health problems such as stroke and hypertension.
"We already know a modest reduction of salt intake in adults causes very worthwhile falls in blood pressure but this new research now strongly supports the same policy of salt reduction in children.
"Children who eat less salt are likely to have a much lower risk of developing high blood pressure when they grow up and this spells out the potential for large reductions in strokes, heart attacks and heart failure, the commonest causes of death and disability worldwide."
The researchers analyzed the combined results of ten trials studying a total of 966 children and adolescents aged between eight and 16, and three trials studying a total of 551 infants.
The study by Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) published in Hypertension showed reduced salt intake in childhood leads to significant reductions in blood pressure - 1.2 mmHg systolic and 1.3 mmHg diastolic in children 8 to 16yrs of age and 2.5 mmHg systolic in babies.
These reductions in blood pressure are extremely significant. Previous studies have suggested that a 2-3 mm Hg reduction in systolic blood pressure across the whole UK population would confer more benefit than all of the blood pressure treatment tablets that are currently being prescribed.
Also blood pressure tracks in children have also been well recorded with higher the blood pressure in childhood causing the higher the blood pressure in adulthood and vice versa.
Researchers have established that in the first few months of life, breast milk or formula milk contains very low levels of salt, besides which adding salt to ready-made baby foods is banned by legislation.
However when children begin to eat a wider range of foods, their salt intake rapidly increases and their salt taste receptors become adjusted to the very high salt content of foods, especially of children's processed foods, and they then develop a taste for salty foods resulting in many children eating the same amount of salt as adults.
Jo Butten, nutritionist for Consensus Action on Salt and Health, said: "This demonstrates for the first time just how much we stand to gain from keeping children's salt intakes down.
"If we did not habituate our children to salty foods and snacks, some of which currently contain concentrations of salt around that of Atlantic seawater, we will see future generations growing up with lower blood pressure and at lower risk of developing heart disease and stroke in later life.
"The UK is leading the world in making reductions in the salt content of manufactured foods and some children's foods have had their salt content reduced, but sadly many other manufacturers are still stuffing salt into their products and marketing them to children.
"They need to take immediate action to reduce these unnecessary and very high salt concentrations. For parents who want to give children the best start in life, the advice is simple. Don't buy these very salty foods marketed at children, stop cooking with salt and don't let your children add salt to their food."
Government guidelines suggest babies under six months old should have less than 1 gram of salt a day and those aged seven to 12 months one gram a day.
Children aged one to three should have 2 grams of salt a day; children aged four to six, 3 grams a day; those aged seven to 10, 5 grams a day; and children 11 to 14, 6 grams a day.
According to the Food and Drink Federation manufacturers have been cutting back on the amount of salt they use in their products and will continue to do so.
Director of communications Julian Hunt said: "CASH has recognised UK food manufacturers have taken the lead on salt reductions.
"Consumers young and old are benefiting from enormous cuts in salt in a whole range of processed foods and industry is committed to doing more.
"Industry has worked very closely with the Food Standards Agency to reduce salt in foods eaten by children such as bread, breakfast cereals and soups with other products such as potato crisps and biscuits also making tremendous cuts.
"Additionally more and more manufacturers are helping consumers see at a glance how much salt is in their foods by putting information on the front of packs and including salt equivalence."
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