In a rather shocking finding of 2011-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), the researchers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have concluded that US school-aged children are consuming far higher amounts of sodium than are required which is putting them at an increased risk of heart diseases.
Zarleen Q Quader, MPH, a data analyst at CDC Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, and co analyzed the NHANES survey, which comprised a 24-hour diet recall and was partaken by 2,142 US children aged 6 to 18 years.
She says, “We already know that nearly all Americans regardless of age, race and gender consume more sodium than is recommended for a healthy diet and the excess intake is of great concern among particular youths.”
She further adds, “Sodium reduction is considered a key public health strategy to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases nationwide and this study is the latest in ongoing CDC efforts to monitor US sodium intake.”
Researchers found out that sodium intake was nearly 3,565 mg in teenagers 14 to 18 years of age and was nearly 2,919 mg in girls on a daily basis. These amounts being considered high by health experts.
The ten food categories which comprised 48% of the sodium intake of US school children include pizza, sandwiches, cheese, poultry, plain milk, soups and snacks. While more than 80 food categories contributed to the other half of their sodium intake.
In addition, the amount of sodium intake the children consumed was 16% from fast food restaurants, 10% from school cafeteria and 58% from superstores and they consume 15% of sodium at breakfast, 30% at lunch and 39% at dinner and 16% in-between meals in the form of snacks.
The amount of sodium the American children are consuming, as the study in question highlighted, is particularly high. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that children should eat less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day while children who are at risk of high blood pressure should consume 1,500 mg per day.
The survey was published in the journal ScienceDirect on November 3rd, 2016.
Why High Sodium Intake Is Dangerous
Sodium is present in nearly all processed and fast foods and is particularly high in pizzas, sandwiches and burgers, potato chips, cheese, pasta, Mexican food and soups. While adults may exhibit a sense of control, children are irresistibly attracted to junk food which, in return, puts them at an alarmingly high risk of obesity.
Researchers say that high sodium content in food is harmful because the kidneys have trouble processing the excess sodium it encounters in the blood. As sodium increases, which is known as hypernatremia, the body holds onto water to dilute the sodium in the bloodstream.
This increases the amount of fluid in the body and in the blood vessels, resulting in an increase in blood pressure as the heart is exerted to maintain proper blood flow in the body. With time, it leads to stiffening of the blood vessels, cardiovascular diseases and hypertension.
High blood pressure is the leading cause of cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks, strokes and heart failure. Every year, more than 800,000 Americans succumb to cardiovascular diseases including coronary heart disease and stroke.
Higher intake of salt or salty foods is also linked with an increase in the risks of stomach cancer. Moreover, calcium in your body is absorbed by the kidneys and lost during urination due to high salt content in the blood. This restricts supply of calcium to the bones and leads to osteoporosis, which is the thinning and weakening of bones.
Cutting Down On Sodium Use
Scientists at Harvard School of Public Health say that these effects can be slowed down in the body by reducing sodium intake. What is rather unknown is that potassium does the exact opposite of sodium; it relaxes blood vessels and decreases blood pressure and is therefore more important than sodium for our body.
A typical American diet contains more sodium than potassium, one other reason sodium becomes more harmful. Where the average sodium intake is 3,300 mg each day for most Americans, they consume only 2,900 mg of potassium each day while the daily recommended intake of potassium is 4,700 to 5,100 mg.
More intake of potassium also decreases the risks of cardiovascular problems and is associated with a 20% lower chance of mortality.
In addition, to cut excessive sodium consumption health experts say it is important to start doing it before any adverse health symptoms show up. They say that cutting sodium intake in childhood can prevent the development of hypertension later in life.
As processed foods contain high amount of salt, it is essential to replace it with fruits, vegetables and lean meats and fish. Even processed foods that don’t taste salty have high amount of sodium like breakfast cereals and canned foods.