New Zealand children are in danger of developing a higher risk of stroke in later life thanks to the high salt content of their diet, according to an article published in Consumer magazine this week for world Salt Awareness Week.
Most New Zealand children already eat more salt than is recommended for good health, and Consumer points out that a taste for high salt intake formed in childhood can lead to lifelong over-consumption, raising the risk of high blood pressure and therefore stroke.
Where is the salt in our food?
Many of the foods most widely eaten by children already contain high levels of salt. These include breads, chips and crackers, cured meats, cheese, breakfast cereals and especially take away foods. Some of them contain more salt in one portion than a child needs in a whole day.
Stroke Foundation Health Promotion Manager Julia Rout says, ‘It is timely of Consumer to remind us of the continued excessive salt intake in New Zealand and highlight the health time bombs being planted in our young population. Despite the efforts to reduce salt levels in many everyday foods the popularity of takeaways in particular makes it impossible to say that our salt intakes have improved. Children are often big consumers of takeaways and the establishment of a taste for salty foods is only storing up trouble for the future.’
What’s the harm in too much salt?
Too much salt in the diet is known to contribute to raised blood pressure which is the biggest single risk factor for stroke. The Ministry of Health recommended maximum daily salt intake for 4-8 year olds is 3.5g but the 2009 Total Diet Survey found that average intakes were over 4.5g, even before salt added at the table was taken into account. For 9-13 year olds the maximum recommended is 5g, but girls were eating on average the adult maximum of close to 6g and boys were consuming around 7g of salt.
‘Unfortunately it is the children of parents working long hours and earning low incomes that are disproportionately affected,’ says Rout. ‘Eating healthily requires time, money and knowledge. So when people don’t know how to prepare foods from scratch, or lack the time, takeaway foods which are usually laden with salt beckon. It is high time the whole takeaway food industry was brought into the process of salt reduction.’
The effects of high blood pressure
A vivid example of how high blood pressure can be so dangerous is provided by Christina Lloyd’s 33-year-old brother Alan who had a devastating stroke last year in Palmerston North. Christina admits her brother’s diet featured a lot of takeaways, and it emerged after his stroke that his blood pressure had been running at over 200 systolic for several years (a healthy systolic pressure is just 120 or lower). Alan now needs constant care and lives in a BUPA care and rehabilitation centre.
According to the Chairman of World Action on Salt and Health (WASH) Professor Graham Macgregor, it is not just the establishment of a taste for salt in children that is the problem. Excess salt can raise young people’s blood pressure at an early age and there is a correlation between higher blood pressures in childhood and more dangerously high pressures in adulthood. This shows how the seeds of stroke are sown young by excessively salty foods.
Image / FreeDigitalPhotos.net – Mister GC