Obesity is increasing in children in the United States and many countries around the world. Getting children to consume fewer calories and exercise more has proven difficult.1 In most countries today salt intake in children is excessively high thanks to the food industry. Excessive salt intake raises blood pressure of children and adults but could it be promoting obesity too?
The first sign of excessive salt intake in children as well as adults is increased thirst. In adults, there is clear evidence that people consume more beverages with increasing salt intake.2 Research has shown that children who consume more sugar-sweetened soft drinks are more likely to become obese, because such beverages appear to provide little satiety per calorie.3 So it seems plausible that children who consume more salt-laden foods would be more likely to increase their fluid intake. For most children today sugar-rich beverages are consumed much more frequently than water and other calorie-free beverages.
Researchers examined the relationship between dietary salt intake and the consumption of soft drinks and other beverages in children to see if there was an association. They found that each daily increase of 400mg of sodium from salt led to an increased fluid intake of about 100g. They also observed that for these kids in England soft drinks were by far the most popular beverage. They concluded that data from this study and other research that ?A reduction in salt intake could, therefore, play a role in helping to reduce childhood obesity through its effect on sugar-sweetened soft drink consumption.?4
Bottom Line: It seems likely that the food industry's heavy-handed use of salt in foods aimed at kids is promoting obesity because of increased thirst and consumption of sugar-rich beverages. Increased blood pressure and obesity from excess salt is likely setting the stage for more strokes in younger adults. The time has come for the FDA to start limiting the amount of salt added to foods and especially foods marketed to children. Parents have to be vigilant or their kids will consume too much salt and soft drinks.
By James J. Kenney, PhD, RD, FACN
1 BMJ. 2001;323:1029-32
2 Hypertension 2001;38:317-20
3 Lancet 2001;357:505-8
4 Hypertension. 2008;51:629-34
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.