Children's diets 'far too salty'

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Children in the UK are eating far too much salt, with much of it coming from breads and cereals, research suggests.

Children should eat less than a teaspoon of salt a day, but 70% of the 340 children in the study published in Hypertension ate more than this.

Breads and cereals accounted for more than one-third of the salt in children's diets. A fifth came from meat and one-tenth from dairy products.

This was despite a UK-wide drive to cut salt levels in food.

Start Quote

It is very difficult for parents to reduce children's salt intake unless they avoid packaged and restaurant foods and prepare each meal from scratch using fresh, natural ingredients”

End Quote Lead researcher Prof MacGregor

The Department of Health said its voluntary salt reduction code with manufacturers was working, but agreed that more progress is still needed.

Manufacturers say they are reducing salt in many products, including bread.

The study authors say efforts must be redoubled because salt increases the risk of high blood pressure from a very young age, and high blood pressure can lead to heart disease and stroke.

Processed foods

For the research, they asked the parents of the 340 children to keep a detailed food diary and take photos of all foods and beverages their child consumed, as well as any leftovers. At the same time, the investigators analysed urine samples from the children to get an objective measure of salt intake.

On average, five and six-year-old children in the study consumed 3.75g of salt a day - more than the recommended 3g maximum.

Eight and nine-year olds consumed 4.72g a day - within their 5g limit.

Thirteen to 17-year-olds consumed 7.55g a day - more than the 6g limit.

Lead researcher Prof Graham MacGregor: Food industry 'must do more' to cut salt

Boys tended to have higher salt intake than girls, particularly in the older and younger groups - about 1g higher per day in 5 to 6-year-olds, and 2.5g per day higher in 13 to 17-year-olds.

Much of the salt consumed was from processed foods rather than added at the table.

Salt limits


The daily recommended maximum amount of salt children should eat depends on age:

  • One to three years - 2g salt a day (0.8g sodium)
  • Four to six years - 3g salt a day (1.2g sodium)
  • Seven to 10 years - 5g salt a day (2g sodium)
  • 11 years and over - 6g salt a day (2.4g sodium)

Lead researcher Prof Graham MacGregor, who is chairman of both the charity Blood Pressure UK and the lobby group Consensus Action on Salt & Health (CASH), said: "It is very difficult for parents to reduce children's salt intake unless they avoid packaged and restaurant foods and prepare each meal from scratch using fresh, natural ingredients."

He said manufacturers needed to do more to cut out salt.

Each 1g reduction in salt consumption would save thousands of lives from heart disease and strokes, he said.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "On average, we are eating approximately 2g of salt more each day than the recommended amount and it is vital that we address this. This is why we are working with industry through the Responsibility Deal to reduce the amount of salt in foods. We have just finalised new salt targets for 76 categories of food and call on industry to sign up."

Aim for foods that have a low or medium salt content:

  • Low is 0.3g salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium)
  • Medium is 0.3g -1.5g per 100g
  • High is more than 1.5g per 100g (0.6g sodium)

Salt levels in many of our foods have reduced significantly, some by 40%-50% or more, and since 2007 more than 11 million kg of salt have been removed from the foods covered by the salt reduction targets. However, average salt consumption remains high at around 8.1g per day, so there is still a long way to go to meet the 6g per day population intake goal.

Manufacturers insist they are reducing salt in many products, including bread.

Terry Jones of the Food and Drink Federation said: "Although salt intakes in the UK have reduced significantly in recent years, we recognise that more work must be done to help and encourage people to stay within recommended limits. This is why food manufacturers have a long history of reducing salt in products and providing clear on-pack labelling to help people know what a product contains."

Luciana Berger MP, Labour's shadow public health minister, said the government had lost its way on public health.

She said: "We are consulting parents and experts about what's in children's food and whether they would find it helpful to have maximum levels of sugar, fat and salt."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 472.

    453 & 458 Taffyman
    Are you attempting to add to the list of foods / ingredients the food experts seem intent on scaring the living daylights out of us with?
    Almost any plant, mineral etc would be bad in excess.
    I used coltsfoot as a salt substitute in small quantities in some cooking.
    I don't buy processed foods so largely avoid added salt & sugar.
    I'll stick with balance & moderation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 471.

    Eat good food, have the occasional treat, exercise a bit. Not rocket science really.

  • Comment number 470.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 469.

    If we all believed everything we read about food, good and bad, we would all starve to death. We need proper cookery lessons for all people, not just children. Most of us have freezers and all you need to do is cook smart, I.e make too much and freeze the rest, ready made meals with little effort. I know working people find it hard, just spend one day a week preparing, freezing, job done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 468.

    464. AndyC555

    I guess, out of respect for his family, the BBC didn't want to attract the inevitable stampede of trolls determined to slag Bob Crow off.

    In the long run healthy diet out trumps the death of any individual in order of importance.
    Those who feel they are being forced to eat what others want them too are, of course, paranoid. They are just being given information upon which to act.

  • rate this

    Comment number 467.

    443.Cornishpirate "Is it child abuse?

    Well it seems like everything from 'obesity' to religion to not reading them a bedtime story is now 'child abuse', EXCEPT (going by the number of Baby P-type scandals) ACTUAL physical, sexual, child abuse. Before long we may as well all sign our children into state care at birth, as they claim to be experts in raising smart, thin, well-adjusted kids (erm...)

  • rate this

    Comment number 466.

    Adding flavoursome herbs, lime/lemon and olive oil help to make food appetising, reducing the need for too much salt. I myself do not use more than a pinch of salt in cooking ; the pinch to help the cooking process, as it raises the temperature..

  • Comment number 465.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 464.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 463.

    308. PeeKay

    Smug parent here. We have given up buying bread. We make our own. Yep it takes about 3 minutes to put the ingredients in the machine. All my day gone!
    Once every 2 months we spend an hour making pasta, bolognese and curry sauces for freezing down. Vegetables we cook fresh. We haven't bought a ready meal for years.
    The saving for our health and pocket are significant.Oozing smugness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 462.

    @ 459 Yes refined salt is worse than natural/sea salt. Sea salt has more flavour and you use less of it as a result. It is not the use of this salt that is the problem. The problem lies with the hidden salt in processed foods and breads. Until we become used to reading all the fine print on food labels and when they actually publish them in the SAME way we will not be the wiser.

  • rate this

    Comment number 461.


    'Too much salt.Too much sugar. Too much fat. Too many carbs.
    Apart from eating oily mackerel, is there anything left to eat without the fear of it being bad for us?'

    The key words are 'too much'. We need some salt, some carbs, some fat and even oily mackerel should not eaten to excess (no more than 4 times a week or 2 times if you're pregnant) because of the risk from mercury.

  • rate this

    Comment number 460.

    Most of us consider numerous factiors when choosing what to eat. Conformity with 'health rules' is not always top of the list. The fat fanatics and obesity extremists have every right to live on lettuce and water if they wish. However given that I didn't vote for them (or a BBC that endlessly, compliantly promotes their agenda), what they DON'T have is the right to impose their priorities on ME.

  • rate this

    Comment number 459.

    I thought there were different salts and that made a difference as well.... Personally, I buy organic, cook from scratch and only use unrefined salt. And I avoid fluoride toothpaste. There is a very good chance this comment will be removed by the BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 458.

    7 Minutes ago
    Apart from eating oily mackerel, is there anything left to eat without the fear of it being bad for us?
    Mackerel can contain 0.66 mg/kg. One portion of mackerel of 150 grams means a methyl mercury content of 99 µg. Plus other dioxins

  • rate this

    Comment number 457.

    I've stopped buying salt now. If you don't have it at home, you won't put it on your food.

  • rate this

    Comment number 456.

    "now even though it is the only mineral that the body can directly absorb, its being declared as bad for us."

    No, what they're saying is too much salt is bad for you, this is not the same as saying salt in general is bad. With all the advice there are exceptions, for example marathon runners are not expected to stick to 2000Kcal per day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 455.

    451 - poiggywiugyy. " 'an chips...".

    Agree. Funny how Cornwall, Wales & Scotland have "proper" old fashioned fish & chips, yet us poor sods in England for the best part only have a vague Chinese version of what fish & chips should be.

    Plenty of salt with mine please!

  • rate this

    Comment number 454.

    The majority of kids food is likely from processed or 'fast' foods so it is little wonder the salt (and sugar) content are higher than desired. It is time for parent(s) to make food from fresh. I did just that - and it only took 15 minutes. It really is not that difficult. There is a lot of guidance out there to help you do this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 453.

    There's a herb called coltsfoot that has a salty flavour and works well in casseroles, stews, soups & sauces..
    Coltsfoot has an "undefined safety" classification by the FDA. Avoid prolonged use of the plant; it may increase blood pressure and pose a risk of carcinogenicity, hepatotoxicity, or mutagenicity.


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