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 112.

    Hang about, I thought the problem with society is that we are living longer and pulling a pension for longer. So where is the risk? I dont believe for one minute that my grandparents/parents had a diet with considerably less salt in than mine! Or is this just the next "food tax" to be considered?

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    more nanny rubbish from overpaid government sponsored officials. must be funding review time. post some dramatic rubbish, get auntie to promote it and job done. easy street for a few more years if we could export these people we would have a balance of trade that would be the envy of the world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    87. Random Advice
    ... no one seems to want to take personal responsibility for their actions these days.
    Until they get 'Personal Responsibility' onto the curriculum nothing will change. Even then it will take a generation. Meanwhile the highly educated highly paid marketeers are shoving as much as they can get away with into every 'ready portion', leaving the taxpayer to take responsibility.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.


    People are living longer because medicine is improving (i.e. we are getting better at keeping sick people alive). People still get ill at about the same rates they used to (actually higher for heart disease and cancers) but they just don't die as quickly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    There is no perfect way of limiting salt intake to guarantee medically advised amounts in processed foods
    It all depends upon what one eats.

    I should think the discrepancy also further differs due to income & living standards.

    It is not hard to cook food from scratch & is a MOST BASIC human existinal skill & is no less important than walking/talking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    Soon, there won't be an NHS left, if Jeremy Hunt gets his way. How will children be able to receive treatment for obesity and other problems caused by excessive salt and sugar, if all the hospitals have been closed down, on the whim of Jeremy Hunt ? MPs vote on the hospital closure tonight. Mods - this is definitely NOT off topic !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    When are government bodies going to grow a pair and tell the food industry to cut down salt in its products with a view to removing them altogether. There's no reason to put salt in breakfast cereals, most of which wax lyrical and misleadingly on their massive, part-filled cartons about their health benefits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    Wow, two food safety reports in a week, sugar now salt.

    What have we to look forward to next week? Saturated fat? Calories?.....

    It's a constant roller coaster of reports.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Funny how people have been constantly dieting for the past however many years yet half the population is still fat. It's almost as if sedendary lifestyles result in obesity regardless of diet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    Another case of the government sticking it's nose in were it doesn't need to be in the hopes of cutting down on how much they spend on healthcare so they can raise their already OTT salaries!!
    I'm just shocked they haven't figured out how to charge the common people for the air we breath but I'm sure while I'm typing this, there is someone sitting at a desk working it out!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    I blame Chef from South Park...

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    There is only one way to ensure that food is healthy and not loaded up with salt, fat, sugar and MSG ect and that is to cook it yourself. which is fine for those of us who can cook and have time to do so. But a busy family with working parents this can be impossible. Short of spending weekends preparing the weeks food there is often no option but to use processed meals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    Cookery should be as important as English and Maths on the school curriculum.
    So too should be a new subject...DIY ? ensure that every child can change a plug, change a tyre, use a drill etc etc before they leave school.
    These subjects will be of far greater use in life than academic studies like History Geography Latin Greek etc etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    I am tempted to take this research with a pinch of salt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Cooking has been maginalised and stigmatised at school perhaps if we can make it "cool to cook" we can alter diet habits. The children might even be able to teach the parents a little

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    When I was a lad I used to buy sweets with names like 'cough candy twists' 'bonbons' 'pear drops' cola cubes etc in quarters I don't know what they were made of but they tasted great! No its salt this and sugar that! Who'd be a kid today :(

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    It makes me laugh (and I know chefs hate it) when people get a meal cooked and as soon as the plate is in front of them add salt and pepper!

    If the meal is cooked well there is no need for extra as the cook will have used seasoning while cooking.

    I think Terry Pratchett calls them "auto condimenters" in his Discworld novels...

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    This has to be a balance between personal responsibility and the food industry.

    If we buy processsed food we read the labels.The food industry does not seem to be committed to clear labelling. We looked at the meal deal offered by one major retailer last weekend. The products with just about high everything had the information on the back;those with a healthier content had it on the front.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    All this education about what's good and bad for you and people still choose the bad things. Could it be that marketing tells people not to cook, just eat? Or drink stimulant drinks and energy drinks they don't need?

    Allowing big business to aggressively market stuff that 80% of the population don't benefit from, then so called experts telling them to do the opposite is downright confusing!

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    It shouldn't be the food industry that's forced to change their ways but parents and consumers. My breakfast bran flakes and brown bread at lunch amount to 11% of my daily intake (adult portions). Children getting a 1/3 of salt from these 2 products does't make sense as they would have smaller portions. It's the same as blaming the drink industry for binge drinkers. Just cut out the junk food.


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