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Kids eat as much salt as adults, study says. What are the consequences?

It's become a familiar refrain: Cut back on salt in order to prevent high blood pressure.

But did you know the same message applies equally to your kids?

A new U.S. government study has found children in that country consume about the same amount of sodium in a day as adults, a discovery that could have serious implications for their health. The study also found the amount of sodium children consumed was tied to their blood pressure. The more sodium children consumed, the higher their blood pressure scores were.

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Eating too much sodium is one of the leading risk factors for high blood pressure, which could lead to cardiovascular disease, stroke and a host of other issues. Too much sodium has also been linked to osteoporosis and kidney problems, to name a few.

Although it's still relatively uncommon, experts have noticed a steady increase in the number of young people with high blood pressure.

They fear these problems will only get worse in the future, particularly given the rising rates of obesity and diabetes. A new report published Thursday by Statistics Canada found that about one-third of young people between 5 and 17 are overweight or obese.

Although that number hasn't changed substantially in the past decade, it's worrisome that one-third of young people are growing up carrying excess weight, which is likely to cause health problems as they grow up.

The new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was based on a study of more than 6,200 children and adolescents between 8 and 18 who had their blood pressure monitored. Researchers used dietary recall to measure how much sodium they were consuming. (Although it's not considered the most reliable method for measuring sodium intake, most experts believe dietary recall, where subjects are asked to record what they ate in the previous 24 hours, actually leads to an underestimation of the total amount of sodium consumed).

The study found that, on average, the young people were consuming nearly 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day, far more than the upper tolerable limit of 2,300 mg, beyond which experts say the risk of health problems begins to rise. Young people in Canada consume similarly high amounts of sodium. What's more is that for every extra 1,000 mg of sodium consumed, study participants had a one-point rise in blood pressure. Among overweight and obese study participants, the rise was 1.5 points.

Although it's difficult to determine what that could mean as children grow up, it's clear the high sodium intake could spell major problems.

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"The antecedents of adult cardiovascular disease are seen early on in the pediatric age group," Frederick Kaskel, chief of pediatric nephrology at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York, who wasn't involved in the study, told Reuters. "We shouldn't underestimate the potential harms of a 1-mm increase in systolic blood pressure."

Although the Salt Institute, a U.S. lobby group, has repeatedly said that high sodium consumption isn't linked to health problems and that cutting back on salt is detrimental, the evidence doesn't back that up. While some studies in recent years have questioned whether too much sodium is actually a bad thing, those reports have been roundly criticized by experts for being biased or flawed.

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About the Author

Carly Weeks has been a journalist with The Globe and Mail since 2007.  She has reported on everything from federal politics to the high levels of sodium in the Canadian diet. More


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