An Australian first study of primary school children has found that children eating greater amounts of salt have a greater risk of being overweight or obese.
Of grave concern, the study also found that in both four to seven year olds and eight to twelve year olds, the prevalence of abdominal obesity was also higher in children with a higher intake of salt.
Scientists have found that abdominal obesity is particularly harmful for blood pressure, blood sugar levels and cardiac risk.
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 school children aged four to twelve 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, said the team wanted to get an accurate measure of just 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. From this we were able to get an objective and accurate measure of how much salt children are eating,” she said.
This is the largest study of its kind in Australia and provides good evidence of just how much salt school children are exposed to.
“We found that 70 per cent of Australian children are eating over the maximum amount of salt recommended for good health.
“In this study children were eating on average 6 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 per cent 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.”
Dr Grimes noted that a lot of the salt that children are eating is in everyday foods such as bread, cheese, ham and sausages.
“Foods that contain higher levels of salt may enhance the flavour of foods, which are often also higher in fat and energy and a salty diet may also encourage greater consumption of high energy sugar-sweetened beverages when these are available,” she said.
“This study is ringing alarm bells as we now have good evidence to indicate the need to cut the amount of salt that our children are eating.”
National Heart Foundation CEO, Professor Garry Jennings AO, said this study is cause for serious concern.
“It 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,” said Professor Jennings.
“As a national leader in research into the causes, treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease, the vital research the Heart Foundation funds has never been more important, especially when it concerns the future health of our next generation.”
Dr Grimes is now recruiting for a new study to test if an online education program can lower salt intake in primary school children. 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 29 February - Sunday 6 March is Salt Awareness Week.
Funding for the SONIC (Salt and Other Nutrient Intakes in Children) study was provided by the National Heart Foundation of Australia and a Helen MacPherson Smith Trust Fund Project Grant. Whilst undertaking this study, Dr Grimes was funded by a National Heart Foundation of Australia Postgraduate Scholarship.
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