Every day, children in London eat an unhealthy amount of salt – with 36 percent of it coming from bread and cereal , according to a study published Monday.

Excessive salt consumption is one of the major factors contributing to high blood pressure which can lead to heart disease and stroke. Earlier studies have shown that kids with high sodium diets are about 40 percent more likely to have elevated blood pressure than kids who have lower sodium diets, according to researchers.

“We know that salt starts increasing the risk of high blood pressure in children starting at age one,” said Graham MacGregor, M.D., study author and professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Barts and The London School of Medicine & Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London. “There needs to be a much greater effort to reduce salt in foods.”

Teens ages 13-17 consumed the most salt at 7.55 grams per day, with teen boys averaging 2.5 grams more per day than girls.

Researchers measured the salt intake of 340 children, ages five to 17, using 24-hour urine samples and food diaries. They also found that:

  • 5- and 6-year-olds consumed 3.75 grams of salt daily.
  • 8- and 9-year-olds consumed 4.72 grams of salt daily.
  • Boys 5- and 6-year-olds consumed 1 gram more salt per day than girls.
  • Meat products provided 19 percent of salt; dairy products provided 11 percent.

In the U.K., adults are advised to eat no more than 6 grams of salt daily, which translates into about 2,400 mg of sodium. In the U.S., the American Heart Association recommends adults and children eat less than 1,500 mg of sodium, about 3.7 grams of salt.

The large amount of salt the children ate was seen despite a nationwide salt reduction program in the U.K., which is cutting the amount of salt major food companies include in supermarket and restaurant foods.

“While salt intake in children wasn’t measured prior to the U.K.’s salt-reduction campaign, the salt intake in adults has fallen 15 percent in six years,” he said. “So, that policy is working, but it’s not working fast enough. We need to do more and the U.S. needs a similar program,” as children eat the same brands of processed foods and fast foods in both countries, MacGregor said.

In the U.S., up to 93 percent of children ages 1 to 18 consume too much sodium, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.

“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,” MacGregor said.

The study appears in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension.

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