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 32.

    My Dad and 3 elderly friends have all been unwell with low sodium counts and been advised to take MORE salt in their diets. Don't give up salt altogether - your body needs it. More health scares that are going to be disproved in 6months/6years/60years. Just eat sensibly. And have a smidgen of salt with your boiled egg.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    The real concern is what food manufacturers can "get away with" adding to our food. The horse meat scandal illustrated this. On the flip side, if people buy it, the shops will stock it. Many years ago Organic food was mocked but I am glad to see that there are an increasing number of such shops now giving people real choice. Drive change in industry, but encourage alternatives for people as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    I have worked for many years in the food industry. The only way to make substantial changes in the processed food sector is to introduce legislation. Certain suppliers of foods will always choose the cheaper ingedient components which usually means that fillers & flavourings / salt will be used to make them taste better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    There is too much flip-flopping on health messages.

    The manufacturers want us to buy their products so they try and make them tasty. A low-fat product uses sugars and a sugar-free uses either fat or some horrible chemicals. Or they add salt.

    We need to get back to basics. Personally we only try and eat food which has not been 'treated'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    I wonder if this health advice is any more accurate than that which told us to avoid butter, milk and eggs? I doubt it, so I'll ignore it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    When I was a child, I could get through half a large loaf's worth of toast between meals easily so making bakers reduce the salt in a loaf to the same as a homemade one (1 teaspoon) could be a start.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    This story is far too salty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    My uncle cooked his chips in lard even in his 80s. Then again he could see a doctor on the same day, Had his bus pass, Afford to heat his home, afford to eat and a pension you that was worth having.

    Today your taxed so heavily, Doctor seen in about a week, 12 hour wait in A&E, Fuel poverty, Work till you drop down dead. No wonder they want you to stay healthy, They can't afford for you to be ill

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Reintroduce rationing. The responsibility for feeding ourselves needs to be in the safe hands of some government department. All foods containing salt, fat and sugar should be removed from the shelves, which would mean supermarkets could be much smaller and therefore employ fewer staff thus reducing costs - everyone wins.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    With all the various food and health scare stories popping up in recent years, it's a wonder that mankind has managed to survive all this time without someone telling us what we should and shouldn't be eating.

    It's almost as if these stories are run as news filler or to move the public's attention away from other events that would otherwise gain a bit too much unwanted attention.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    There is an awful lot of salt, sugar and fat and a lot of people who profit from selling it. Cut it out of one thing and they will simply shovel into someting else. You are going to get it unless you read every label and act upon it. Don't expect others to protect you - the food lobby is very powerful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    By going to the butchers and then the green grocers people can buy smaller amounts of food to avoid waste while being in control of added salt all this take a little bit of time we love our children and need to look after their health cooking with them will give them skills that will allow them a healthy life

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Yes im seeing a "salt tax" looming from the gov and maybe a parent fine from the lunchbox police too...after all its all about how much money you can grab from people in this county. So yeah lets forget the big write up on health and how worrying it is....lets just headline it ..."we need more money and this year salt is going to be the big earner"!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Maybe this is due to the long working hours that parents in the UK? I wonder how many people here in the comments immediately saying "LAZY PARENTS" think about how long one should work for?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    People will say you shouldn't give your children processed foods, but according to the article more than a third of this salt comes from bread and cereals! I cook from scratch every day for my family, we eat almost no processed food and certainly no ready meals, but even I tend to buy bread and breakfast cereals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.


    It has long since become clear that the big food industry is congenitally UNABLE to get its own house in order...

    ...if this Govt. cares about our health, especially that of our children, they will FORCE the industry to clean up its act...

    ...if they DON'T care however, they'll continue to pretend that the industry is best left to regulate itself...


  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Meaning of parenting:

    The rearing of a child or children, especially the care, love, and guidance given by a parent.

    A lot of people need to look this up!

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    The processed food industry trades on laziness and fear of cooking. Mrs G & I both work long hours in our own business, but only eat ready meals once per week max. We cook batches and freeze them, we make quick stir fries and pasta meals. 30 mins max from home time to meal time. Cooking is therapy from stress. Using ready meals to save time for TV watching is not the way to go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    @ #9.

    Well, if parents aren't doing their jobs properly, who will?

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I have always restricted the amount of sugar and salt my daughter has. If she had any additional salt it was a little of a low sodium salt. She, in turn is restricting the amount of sugar and salt her son has.


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