Most kids eat too much salt — hurting their heart health. But you can set them on a healthier path from the start.
How much sodium are children and youth in the U.S. eating?
On average, children ages 2 to 19 eat more than 3,100 milligrams (mg) sodium per day — about double the amount the American Heart Association recommends. The older children get, the more calories and sodium they tend to eat.
Research has shown that males 12 to 19 eat the most sodium — an average 4,220 mg/day, while females in the same age group eat about 2,950 mg/day.
Where do kids get their sodium?
Children 6 to 18 years old get about:
- 14% from breakfast
- 31% from lunch
- 39% from dinner
- 16% from snacks
Most of the sodium that children eat comes from processed, packaged and prepared foods commonly in grocery stores and restaurants.
The top 10 foods that contribute to excess sodium in the diets of U.S. children are:
- Mexican food (such as burritos and tacos)
- Sandwiches (fast food/restaurant burgers, chicken, egg and hot dogs)
- Bread and rolls
- Cold cuts and cured meats (pepperoni, sausage, etc.)
- Snacks (such as chips and pretzels)
Some food manufacturers and restaurants make lower sodium versions of the same food. So make healthier food choices for your children by reading the Nutrition Facts label to compare sodium content among different brands.
How can too much sodium hurt my child’s health?
Eating too much sodium is associated with higher blood pressure in children and teens, and the effect is even greater if they’re overweight or obese. Kids with high-sodium diets are almost 40% more likely to have elevated blood pressure than kids with lower-sodium diets. High blood pressure in childhood can also result in early development of heart disease and risk for premature death.
Also, high blood pressure in childhood is linked to high blood pressure in adulthood. But lowering blood pressure during childhood can help decrease the risk for high blood pressure as an adult. And it can be as simple as helping them eat less sodium.
How can I help reduce the sodium my kids get?
You can help your kids eat less sodium today to help prevent heart disease tomorrow:
- Model healthy eating. Use the American Heart Association’s diet and lifestyle recommendations as a guide.
- Involve your kids when you prepare healthy meals. Try some of our kid-friendly recipes.
- Ask your grocery manager to offer your family’s favorite foods in versions with less sodium. And look for the Heart-Check Certification to help create a heart-healthy eating plan.
- Look up nutrition information online before you go out to eat to find healthier choices.
- Support changes that will lead to healthier meals in child care centers and schools.
How can we shape children’s taste buds so they won’t miss the extra salt?
Start young! Our taste preferences for salt are shaped by what we eat early in life . Kids may not prefer so much salt if they’re given foods with less sodium from an early age. You can also help by gradually reducing the sodium in their foods — they might not even notice the difference.