An Australian first study of primary schoolchildren by Victorian researchers has found that children eating greater amounts of salt have a greater risk of being overweight or obese.
The study also found that in both four-to-seven-year olds and eight-to-12-year-olds, the prevalence of abdominal obesity was also higher in children with a higher intake of salt.
The recent findings published in the British Journal of Nutrition came from the SONIC (Salt and Other Nutrient Intakes in Children) study that measured salt intake in 666 primary schoolchildren aged four to 12 years.
Dr Carley Grimes, an Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Fellow at Deakin University‘s Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research (C-PAN) and lead researcher on the study, says the researchers wanted to get an accurate measure of how much salt children are consuming.
“Because we excrete most of the salt that we eat each day in our urine, we asked children to collect their urine for a whole day,” Dr Grimes says.
“From this we were able to get an objective and accurate measure of how much salt children are eating.” This is the largest study of its kind in Australia and provides good evidence of just how much salt schoolchildren are eating/exposed to.
“We found that 70% of Australian children are eating over the maximum amount of salt recommended for good health.
“In this study children were eating on average six grams of salt a day, which is over a teaspoon, and they should be aiming to eat about 4-5 grams a day.
”For every additional gram of salt children ate this was associated with a 23% greater likelihood of being overweight or obese. Such high intakes of salt are setting children up for a lifetime risk of future chronic disease such as high blood pressure and heart disease,” she says.
The Heart Foundation has supported the study.
“We know that behaviours developed early in life, including a taste for salty food can increase the chance of the behaviour continuing throughout life,” says Professor Garry Jennings, National Heart Foundation CEO.
“It is alarming that children are already implicated in a high salt diet that has the potential to increase their risk of obesity and chronic disease such as high blood pressure and heart disease later on in life.
“A lot of the salt we eat is hidden in every day foods such as bread and cereals and we may not even know we are eating it.
“Currently, Australians are eating the maximum daily amount of salt just from the everyday foods they buy. This doesn’t include salt added at the table – so many people will be eating much more.”
The study highlights the importance of salt reduction to reduce the risk of future chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and heart disease later in life, says Prof Jennings.
Dr Grimes is now recruiting for a new study to test if an online education program can lower salt intake in primary schoolchildren. The research team is currently recruiting primary schools to participate in the DELISH (Digital Education to Limit Salt in the Home) program and any interested schools can contact the project manager Anne Griffiths on 9251 7424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday 29th February – Sunday 6th March is Salt Awareness Week.