Breads and cereals accounted for more than one-third of the salt in children’s diets. A fifth came from meat and one-tenth from dairy products. Children should eat less than a teaspoon of salt a day, but 70% of the 340 children in the study published in hypertension ate more than this. Manufacturers say they are reducing salt in many products, including bread.
The Department of Health said its voluntary salt reduction code with manufacturers was working, but agreed that more progress is still needed. The study authors say efforts must be redoubled because salt increases the risk of high blood pressure from a very young age, and high blood pressure can lead to heart disease and stroke.
Researchers asked the parents of the 340 children to keep a detailed food diary and take photos of all foods and beverages their child consumed, as well as any leftovers. At the same time, the investigators analysed urine samples from the children to get an objective measure of salt intake.
On average, five and six-year-old children in the study consumed 3.75g of salt a day which is more than the recommended 3g maximum. Eight and nine-year olds consumed 4.72g a day within their 5g limit. Thirteen to 17-year-olds consumed 7.55g a day which was more than the 6g limit.
Mostly boys tend to have higher salt intake than girls, particularly in the older and younger groups – about 1g higher per day in 5 to 6-year-olds, and 2.5g per day higher in 13 to 17-year-olds.
Lead researcher Prof Graham MacGregor, who is chairman of both the charity Blood Pressure UK and the lobby group Consensus Action on Salt & Health (CASH), said, “It is very difficult for parents to reduce children’s salt intake unless they avoid packaged and restaurant foods and prepare each meal from scratch using fresh, natural ingredients. The manufacturers needed to do more to cut out salt.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “On average, we are eating approximately 2g of salt more each day than the recommended amount. This is why we are working with industry through the responsibility to reduce the amount of salt in foods. We have just finalised new salt targets for 76 categories of food and call on industry to sign up.”
Terry Jones of the Food and Drink Federation said, “Although salt intakes in the UK have reduced in recent years, we recognize that more work must be done to help and encourage people to stay within recommended limits. This is why food manufacturers have a long history of reducing salt in products and providing clear on-pack labeling to help people know what a product contains.”
Luciana Berger MP, Labour’s shadow public health minister, said, ” We are consulting parents and experts about what’s in children’s food and whether they would find it helpful to have maximum levels of sugar, fat and salt.” Each 1g reduction in salt consumption would save thousands of lives from heart disease and strokes.
Manufacturers insist they are reducing salt in many products, including bread.