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 312.

    The simple fact is that no food is inheritantly unhealthy until you start to binge on it. A bit of carbs or salt in your diet is fine. Eating tons of it is not.

    Time management and routine really. Cook several day's portions and reheat etc rather than always cooking daily.

  • rate this

    Comment number 311.

    My kids and I cook from scratch at home. We rarely buy ready meals, only for when we have little time in one or two evenings. We know what ingredients go in it and we add very little salt. We don’t need to because we have many fresh vegetables, fruit, herbs, and spices to add real flavour. We do use salt, but sea salt because we don’t need so much of it for flavour. Job done!

  • rate this

    Comment number 310.

    It shouldn't be necessary for busy parents to bake their own bread and even bake their own beans to protect their children from excess salt. The same applies to sugar. Legislation should prevent it from being added in unnecessary quantities to genetic and savoury foods. Childre can't protect themselves. Even most adults find it very difficult.

  • rate this

    Comment number 309.

    'A lot of salt comes from unexpected places, bread for example. How can we reduce our salt intake if its in the most basic foodstuffs?'
    There is an ongoing programme to gradually reduce salt in bread. It seems to be working. People aren't noticing the difference and are consuming less salt as a result.

  • rate this

    Comment number 308.

    Cue the usual smugness from those parents who have time to cook all their children's meals from scratch. No doubt your perfect toddlers will reward you for this effort by gratefully eating every mouthful. Meanwhile, in the real world...

  • rate this

    Comment number 307.


    It is possible to enjoy life to the full without eating and drinking rubbish. I'd FAR RATHER have my wife's healthy, incredibly tasty lamb casserole and a glass of red wine than a Big Mac and Coke.

  • rate this

    Comment number 306.

    @274 Dentists will tell you anything there paymasters tell them to say. Notice they are all employed, just about, by Capitalist Company's so there massage is often biased towards profit. Remember the Milk Industry telling us to Drink a Pint a Day. British Beef is Best, Go to work on a Egg.
    296 So you know me, No. My kids are 40 and 38 and doing well, and are very happy. And yours ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 305.

    The problem is not just salt per se but the use of refined salts with additives. If lower salt levels *but* also unrefined sea salt (preferably organic) was used the results would be even healthier.

  • rate this

    Comment number 304.

    There is nothing particularly new about adulterated foods. One of Disraeli`s first major Acts was to regulate the supply. However I do believe that the influence of processed food is now far wider and more profound that it ever used to be and for most people the alternatives are either impractical or to expensive.

    I also think it is why so many of us are turning into lard monsters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 303.

    In my generation and below, there's not much education about good/bad foods and how to cook. Our food tech lessons were microwave sponges and the occasional mince & dumplings meal. More education in schools and even to adults of how to cook fresh meals on a budget would help, surely?

  • rate this

    Comment number 302.

    could i please have a day when im not told something else is going to make me ill.....

    its making me ill!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 301.

    We should be more worried about the polluted air, rivers, sea and food chain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 300.

    Not a week goes by without some sort of food scare. In recent weeks protein, salt, sugar, fats and dairy products have all been suggested as being harmful. If we pay attention to all these scares we pay as well curl up and starve to death.

  • rate this

    Comment number 299.

    Just consulted my diary. Last week it was sugar, this week it's salt. So that means next week's scary health fascist story will be fat, then alcohol then smoking, then the anti car brigade then it's back to sugar again.

    We're only here once so enjoy life!

  • rate this

    Comment number 298.

    If you can avoid processed foods all the never know exactly what you're getting and they tend to be loaded with sugar and salt to make them appealing to the taste buds. Cooking from fresh ingredients takes practice, but once you're used to it is likely to be far healthier.
    As an aside, do you realise that some bulking agents used in bread are manufactured using human hair.

  • rate this

    Comment number 297.

    " Blokedownthepub
    When you print stories like this we should be told who is paying theas people to write this rubbish"

    I suggest you submit considered research that show fat, salt, sugar etc are perfectly safe if consumed without limit with evidence and references to peer scientific journals. We await with baited breath.

  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    280.TC - Your a long time dead so enjoy what you want and to hell with the miserable scientists. Did what they say we would die of starvation. Anyone who disagrees you are free to do what you want don't tell me what to do.

    Shovel as much muck into your own body as you want. Feeding it to your children however is a different matter altogether. They don't get to choose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 295.

    Will this lower GCSE grades too?

  • rate this

    Comment number 294.

    Yes. children's diets are far too salty. Let's hope we still have an NHS to treat people. Jeremy Hunt wants to close down hospitals :

  • rate this

    Comment number 293.

    Children should be allowed to eat what they want; you're only young once!


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