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Salt Intake and Childhood Obesity

Salt Intake and Childhood Obesity

Children are eating as much salt as adults, according to a new report published in the Jopurnal of Pediatrics….and experts are concerned.

Most adults consume too much sodium and that, can have serious health implications. Too much salt in a person’s diet can raise your blood pressure.  High blood pressure increases the risk for heart disease, stroke, cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, and a slew of other VERY serious health problems.  In a recent study, published in the journal of Pediatrics, researchers found that if a child is overweight and eats as much salt as an adult, the risk for high blood pressure increases exponentially.

Health experts recommend that most people eat no more than 2,300 milligrams of salt a daywhich is the equivalent of 1 teaspoon. There has been an consistent increase in the amount of salt that children and adults alike are consuming.  This is, on average, about 3,400 milligrams daily, according to the study.

The study stated that when young people increased their daily salt levels by 1,000 milligrams, the risk for high blood pressure increased 74% for overweight or obese youngsters.  On the contrary, only 6% for kids in the normal weight range had elevated blood pressure. The researchers looked at more than 6,200 young people that ranged from ages 8 to 18. More than one third of the study populous was overweight or obese and 15% had elevated or high blood pressure.  That is a scary statistic considering that 6200 children is a minute fraction of the child and adolescent population.

What is even more scary is that most of the salt we consume is already in the foods we eat, not what we add at the dinner table.  Breads and rolls, cold cuts, pizza, fresh and processed poultry, soups, sandwiches, cheese, pasta dishes, meat dishes and snacks are the top 10 food sources that account for 44% of sodium consumed, according a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in February.

“If you have high blood pressure in childhood, it’s likely that the effects will last into adulthood. Increased blood pressure is one of the most significant risk factors for cardiovascular disease (heart disease),” explains research scientist Quanhe Yang, who works with the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So why do heavier children appear to be at higher risk for hypertension or high blood pressure? Scientists can’t explain it fully, but they’ve found that overweight kids tend to be more sensitive to salt’s effect on the body.  My personal opinion is that when you are overweight, the body is in a chronic state of inflammation and cellular stress because it is below an optimal functional capacity.

In general, when we eat more salt, we retain more water. Part of the water ends up in our blood stream, increasing the volume of blood and causing the heart to pump harder to move the extra blood. Blood pressure increases as a result.  Over time, the increase in pressure causes wear and tear on the walls of our blood vessels, making it easier for fat-like substances to build up and narrow the vessel. The accumulation of those substances may lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Parents can easily reduce their child’s chances of developing high blood pressure. Most of the sodium we eat comes from packaged, processed or restaurant food. As a general rule, you want to limit the amount of processed food products you and your family consume.  Microwave foods, snacks, junk food, and popcorn are actually very bad for you.  They may say “diet something” on the cover, but many times when a food is low fat, it is extremely high in salt and sugar.  Honestly, I would rather see you eat more healthy fat and less sugar!  Regardless of the source,  we need to cut back. Start at the grocery store. Salt is hidden in many foods, so scrutinizing food labels is essential. Low sodium options are often available.

Eating out is equally as bad.  Even though we all like to go out of the house to enjoy a nice family meal, the reality is that most of the food has very high salt contents.  If you have ever wondered why you are so thirsty after you leave a restaurant, it is because of the large amounts of sodium they use to preserve the food and add taste to sub quality foods.  When you are at a restaurant, ask if they can provide the nutrition content of the food or if they cannot add sodium to the meal.

Ultimately, it’s important for overweight children to try to get down to a normal weight, exercise, and to eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.  Parents must lead by example when it comes to teaching your children healthy eating habits that will last them a lifetime.  In this day and age, the quality of food is less healthy than it was decades ago and it has resulted in the United Stated being the most overfed yet undernourished and obese county in the world.

There are many available sources for you to educate yourself and your family about healthy eating habits.  I always tell my patients to start with small changes and progress from there.  My patients find it is an easy way to build momentum and get your body used to a healthier lifestyle.  We always start with eliminating soda and fruit drinks.  Water, unsweetened homemade tea are good places to start in place of soda.  Once you are used to drinking only water, start cutting out the junk food and processed food.  Then you move to more fruits and vegetables.  Add some family time in there with walks around the neighborhood and before you know it, the whole family is buying new and smaller clothes.  Good health is a life time commitment, and it is one that is definitely with investing your time and effort.

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