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02-08-2011 | General practice | Article

Many infants consume unhealthily high salt levels

Abstract

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MedWire News: Study findings published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggest that around 70% of all 8-month-old infants in the UK are consuming unhealthily high levels of salt in their diets.

"These findings show that salt intakes need to be substantially reduced in children of this age group. Infants need foods specifically prepared for them without added salt, so it is important to adapt the family diet," said study authors Pauline Emmett and Vicky Cribb from the University of Bristol in the UK.

The investigators explain that it is important to restrict the amount of salt in the diet of young children, due to the potentially detrimental effect of consuming higher levels on the developing kidneys and on blood pressure in later life.

The team collected 3-day dietary information, provided by the parents, from 1178 8-month-old infants who were born in 1991/1992 and were enrolled in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children.

The infants were divided into quartiles for salt intake with mean intake ranging from 294 mg/day in the lowest quartile to 1064 mg/day in the highest.

Somewhat concerningly, 70% of the children consumed over 400 mg/day of salt - the suggested maximum level for infants under the age of 12 months.

Most of the infants began complementary feeding, the introduction of foods other than milk, at 3-4 months of age, with initial foods most commonly being plain baby rice, rusks, and other cereals.

However, Emmett and co-authors found that by 8 months of age children in the highest quartile for salt intake were consuming three times more bread than children in the lowest quartile and were frequently eating foods containing salty flavorings such as yeast extract and gravy.

Children in the highest quartile for salt intake were also often consuming cows' milk as a main drink (29%), despite recommendations against this practice for infants under 12 months of age due to the higher sodium content of cows' milk compared with breast and formula milk.

"This research suggests that clear advice is needed for parents about what foods are suitable for infants. This should be given to all parents and carers and should include the important advice not to use cows' milk as a main drink before 12 months of age," suggested Emmett and Cribb.

"Given that three-quarters of salt in the diet comes from processed adult foods, successful salt-reduction strategies can only be achieved with the co-operation of the food industry," they commented.

"Manufacturers have a responsibility to reduce the salt content of food products. This process has already started in UK but much more needs to be done. If this study were repeated today it is likely that there would be some improvement but not enough to safeguard the health of all babies."

By Helen Albert

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