Several studies presented this week at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2013 Scientific Sessions show that toddlers are consuming far too much sodium. Most toddler packaged snacks and meals and snacks have more than the recommended daily amount of sodium per serving, meaning children as young as one are likely eating far too much salt early in life. This information is alarming since there's evidence that a child's sodium intake increases the likelihood of developing hypertension as an adult, a major risk factor of cardiovascular disease - the number one killer of men and women in the United States.
"The good news is that commercial foods for babies, when they start complimentary feeding from 4 to 12 months ... are relatively low in sodium. But the products marketed to toddlers were significantly higher in sodium: more than 75% of the toddler meals and snacks had high sodium content," explains Joyce Maalouf, the study's lead author and a fellow at the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Maalouf and her team reviewed more than 1,100 products specifically marketed to babies and toddlers. Products Any with more than 210 milligrams of sodium per serving was defined as being high in sodium, based on salt intake guidelines outlined by the Institute of Medicine and MyPlate.gov for young children.
Some of the tested toddler meals had upwards of 630 milligrams of sodium per serving. Those with the highest amount of sodium were meals and "savory snacks" compared to the cereal bars and fruit snacks that were tested.
The brand names of the foods Malouf and her team tested will not be released, but she described the meals as being readily available in grocery stores aisles stocked with food for babies and toddlers.
The worst offenders? Pre-packed meals like mac and cheese, pasta with meat sauce, pizza, or chicken and vegetables. Meals that are not frozen, but usually microwaveable.
The UDSA recommends toddlers ages 1 to 3 consume between 1,000 and 1,500 milligrams of sodium daily.
Maalouf says parents need to be aware of the how much sodium their children are consuming and that eating too much salt can be a problem in young children. She encourages parents to read nutrition labels before buying meals or snacks for their children.
"These meals are not the only meal that kids will eat," says Maalouf. "They're growing, they're always snacking. So they're eating seven to eight servings and meals per day."