A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that more than 90 percent of kids ages 6-18 eat too much sodium. To be exact, they’re downing an average of 3,300 mg/day – and that’s before they pick up the salt shaker at the table.
Teenagers (ages 14-18) are eating even more - almost 3,700 mg. Both of these figures are more than double the amount of sodium that the American Heart Association recommends for ideal heart health.
Eating this much sodium puts kids at risk for getting high blood pressure and heart disease when they grow up. Sadly, 1 in 6 of them already has raised blood pressure.
The CDC’s report uses the most recent data from a national survey of Americans’ eating habits to identify the top 10 food categories that contribute the most sodium to kids' diets. Taken together, these foods contribute 43 percent of the sodium they eat. Keep in mind that these foods aren’t all necessarily sky-high in sodium; it may be that they have moderate levels of sodium but are eaten frequently enough that they land on the list of top contributors to sodium intake.
These foods are:
- Breads and rolls
- Cold cuts and cured meats
- Savory snacks (like chips)
- Sandwiches (like cheeseburgers)
- Chicken patties/nuggets/tenders
- Pasta mixed dishes (like spaghetti with sauce)
- Mexican mixed dishes (like burritos and tacos)
Another key finding in the report is that most of the sodium kids are getting is already added to their food before it gets to them – 65 percent is from store foods, 13 percent is from fast food and pizza restaurant foods, and 9 percent is from school cafeteria foods. This can make it hard to stick to an eating pattern that meets sodium recommendations.
What can we do to reduce the sodium kids eat? The CDC report suggests:
- Parents can model healthy eating for by offering their kids plenty of fruits and vegetables without added salt. When buying food, they can compare labels of similar products and choose the one with the lowest sodium.
- Places that produce, sell, or serve food can replace sodium with alternatives like spices, herbs, and citrus juices, and scout around for lower-sodium brands.
- Schools and school districts can effect food purchasing policies and standards so that only foods with a certain level of sodium can be included in their menus and vending machines.
What other ideas do you have for helping keep our kids healthy by keeping their sodium levels in check?