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 192.

    It all comes down to eating properly. Don't get me wrong, I love a trip to the chippy occasionally, but it is not difficult or overly time consuming to cook decent meals.

    My wife and I both work and have a young child, but we still manage to sit down and have a proper meal together each day. Also, it is often cheaper to cook a decent meal from scratch than heat up a microwave meal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    What do you expect when both parents must work in order to just pay the bills! What happened to the days where one stayed at home to look after the kids whilst the other made enough to pay the bills and put food on the table?

    Greed. Prices have been going up, forcing both to work, less/bad food on the table and kids joining gangs to fill the parental void. Well done capitalism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    You cut your coat to suit your cloth! Our teenage daughter loves her bit of 'junk' food & chocolate, but she walks for miles, cycles & participates in all manner of activities. She's as fit as a butcher's dog & not overweight. For me, that's evidence enough for where the real problem lies. If you compensate for what you eat, you're unlikely to go far wrong & if you can't, just don't eat it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    158.Montys Flying Circus
    These corporations have been in cahoots for years, they put salt in the diet because its addictive and makes you want to drink
    No, it's because it makes the food taste better - you'll see any chef on TV do the same. Blaming "corporations" and "addictive" salt is just another way to say "It's someone else's fault".. the same argument for sugar, fat, carbs etc etc..

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    @164 Choobs

    It leaves eating less of everything.

    And that can only be a good thing. Lower food bills, less waste and healthier people.

    Lower world food prices benefitting less wealthy nations, less demand for cash crops to replace rainforest.

    Butterfly flapping its wings?

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    Just now
    The only two genuinely healthy cereals are Weetabix and All Bran.

    Shredded wheat ,porridge, and almost all with the wholegrain sign on i think there plenty of choice before hitting the bad stuff tho i like them to

  • Comment number 186.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    'What year was that because my waitrose sells nothing for 39p.'

    On Saturday. Loose bananas 68p a kilo. Works at out 9-12p each. Loose carrots and onions 95p a kilo.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    The Japanese eat salt like its going out of fashion. The result is they do not have high blood pressure and also live longer with an average life span of 82.9.

    I think health problems in this country are more a result of lack of exercise, long working hours and poor wages in relation to cost of living.

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    Another week, another food scare story

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    What is salt?

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    As I walk to my office I pass the same primary school children being walked to school and every morning they stop at the local shop where they emerge eating sweets and packets of crisps, probably their breakfast.

    I am also willing to bet that their meals at home are high in salt / fat ready meals and will turn out like the over weight / unhealthy older secondary school kids which I also pass.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    I find it hard to believe that 1/3 of the intake comes from cereals and bread when eaten in normal amounts, but put that aside.

    Roughly 1/3 comes from cereals and bread, roughlty 1/3 comes from meat and dairy, and roughly 1/3 comes from ????

    Where did the final 1/3 come from, and shouldn't there be more research into where it is hidden?

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    Can we have some info on which parliamentarians have connections with the fast food / junk food industry please? No doubt the industry has lobbyists working tirelessly at Westminster.

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    The only two genuinely healthy cereals are Weetabix and All Bran. I like the former but the latter is a bit hard going. Niether generally appeal to kids. As such as a parent you are probably better off exploring alternatives for breakfast.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    Look!! Its in The D Mail of course it is a valid report!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    169. Catherine Reynolds
    There is no proof that "excess" salt raises blood pressure - let's ask CASH to provide it!
    By the same standard there's no proof the HIV virus causes AIDS but I suspect you wouldn't volunteer to for an injection of HIV contaminated blood to provide the absolute definitive proof. The correlation between salt intake & blood pressure is very strong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    The problem with salt is most people expect a salt flavour rather than using a small amount to enhance other flavours. Prime examples Crisps. We have been conditioned by decades of conveniance foods so our taste requires salt.
    A pinch of salt in veg when cooking brings out and enhances the flavour of the veg, any more makes it taste salty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    Sugar, saturated fats, salt. We are finally getting the message. Our diet is rubbish and the food industry is responsible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    How about we all just learn to take responsibility for our own actions again instead of suing everyone and everything and blaming everyone but ourselves.


Page 15 of 24


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