Rising dietary sodium intake combined with a growing obesity epidemic are prompting scientists to take a closer look at salt intake in children. With nearly 80 percent of sodium in U.S. diets originating from salt hidden in processed foods, dietary sodium levels need to be reduced at an early age, according to Feng J. He and colleagues in a March 2008 article of the journal Hypertension. By learning more about sodium levels in children and its effect on health, you can prevent your child from developing serious medical conditions associated with a high dietary intake of salt.
Proper sodium levels are essential for transmitting nerve signals, aiding in muscle contraction, maintaining normal pH of the blood and proper levels of water and fluids in the body, Lisa Hark and Darwin Deen say in “Nutrition For Life.” When sodium levels in your child’s body drops, kidneys store the sodium and when levels rise beyond what kidneys can excrete, sodium accumulates in the blood, increasing the likelihood of developing a serious medical condition, according to the MayoClinic.com.
The American Heart Association’s dietary guidelines for children and adolescents published in the journal Circulation recommend children up to 3 years of age consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium daily. Similarly, it recommends children 4 to 8 years of age consume less than 1,900 mg of sodium daily, children 9 to 13 less than 2,200 mg and children 14 to 18 less than 2,300 mg.
High Sodium Levels
As excess sodium accumulates in the blood, it holds water and causes blood volume to rise, the MayoClinic.com says. Higher blood volumes cause the heart to work harder to pump blood, increasing blood pressure. While high blood pressure is a known risk factor for heart disease in adults, scientists disagree as to whether the same is true in children. However, a study in the January 2008 issue of the Journal of Human Hypertension found an increase of 1 g per day of salt caused blood pressure to rise by 0.4 mm Hg. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
Low Sodium Levels
Low levels of sodium in your child are rare but may occur after extensive vomiting, diarrhea or illness, according to "Nutrition for Life." Similarly, dehydration, excessive sweating or hot weather can cause sodium levels to drop, the authors add.
Low sodium levels can also be beneficial in reducing obesity, according to the journal Hypertension. The authors found a reduction in salt intake by 1 g per day reduced fluid intake by 100 g per day in children 4 to 18, and reduced soft drink consumption by 27 g per day. The findings are important because high levels of soft drink consumption are related to a rise in obesity levels, which put children at greater risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
Food labels can be misleading when it comes to determining the sodium content of a product. Labels such as “reduced sodium” or “light in sodium” may still contain high levels of salt, the MayoClinic.com advises. Pay close attention to nutrition labels and, in general, avoid foods with more than 200 mg of sodium per serving, the MayoClinic.com adds.