By Brett Smith
On average, Americans like their food salty, but it is an affinity that often results in conditions like hypertension and heart disease.
A new study from officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that many pre-packaged children’s food may be giving the youngest Americans an early start when it comes to eating salty foods. They may also be giving these young kids an early start on lifelong health issues as a result of too much sodium in their diet.
A survey of over 1,100 food products for babies and toddlers found that 75 percent of those products were too high in sodium, according to recommended daily amounts.
“Our concern is the possible long-term health risks of introducing high levels of sodium in a child’s diet, because high blood pressure, as well as a preference for salty foods may develop early in life,” said lead researcher Joyce Maalouf from the CDC. “The less sodium in an infant’s or toddler’s diet, the less he or she may want it when older.”
The CDC researchers considered the food product too salty if it contained over 210 milligrams of sodium per serving. They found that toddler meals tended to contain more sodium than infants meals, with some containing as much as 630 milligrams per serving. These servings contain the equivalent of 40 percent of the American Heart Association’s (AHA) recommended daily allowance of sodium.
Federal guidelines suggest a limit of 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day, while the AHA recommends even less – 1,500 milligrams. Previous surveys have shown that Americans typically consume 3,400 milligrams each day, more than twice the AHA daily limit.
In commenting on the study in a web video, AHA spokesperson Linda Van Horn recommended that parents start their child on a more natural and less processed diet.
“The taste for sodium is a learned behavior: We know this to be true,” she said. “The more sodium you eat, the more sodium you want. As you initiate that palate, you start teaching a child that a higher sodium intake is normal, expected, etcetera – instead of what can be done very effectively by providing foods that are in their natural state, lower in sodium, and teaching that child to appreciate the actual flavor of the food.”
Malouf added that attentive and aware parents should be able to select healthy food for their young children if they simply pay attention to what they buy.
“Parents and other caregivers can read the nutrition facts labels on baby and toddler foods, to choose the healthiest options for their child,” she said.
In a comment about the study to CBSNews.com, Andrea Rumschlag, a pediatric dietician at the Cleveland Clinic, said the study will help to raise awareness about the sodium content in children’s food that may have previously gone unnoticed.
“It’s good information for parents to see that packaged food in any way, shape or form is always going to be high in sodium,” said Rumschlag, who was not involved in the CDC study.
She said that although the AHA recommend 1,500 milligrams as a daily allowance for sodium, small children between the ages of 1 and 3 should have no more than 1,000 milligrams per day.